Dozens of Bernalillo County residents turned out en masse to the Aug. 8 Bernalillo County Commission meeting to support keeping BernCo immigrant friendly. The hot issues on the table were a resolution that would rescind the immigrant-friendly status of the county and the separate issue of adding dozens of Sherriff’s deputies to the county’s ranks.
Republican mayoral candidate and County Commissioner Wayne Johnson introduced a measure to rescind a resolution passed in March by the Commission that declared the county to be immigrant-friendly. Johnson’s plan to yank the resolution came after Albuquerque was called out as one the four cities US Attorney Jeff Sessions singled out in an official letter that warned the Feds would withhold law enforcement funding from cities who had openly declared their immigrant-friendly or sanctuary city status.
This proposed legislation called for the county, which is the entity that operates the local detention center, to allow federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to have an office inside the jail where arrestees would be screened for immigration status before being allowed bond or release. On the Burque side, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry responded to the Feds by saying that, in 2009, he gave ICE agents space in the city-operated Downtown Prisoner Transport Center to do their screenings prior to prisoner transport to the county-run West Side lock-up. But ICE agents have never really set up shop there and the space has been empty since 2014, as confirmed by Police Chief Gorden Eden at the Aug. 7 City Council meeting.
Former City Councilor Rey Garduño addressed the Commission in both Spanish and English, strongly admonishing the body and saying “Go ahead and lie about how you are going to protect the community. Shame on you for grabbing headlines to get elected. Shame on those who take refuge in scoundrels.”
Commissioner Johnson defended his resolution by saying it is being misunderstood and the resolution is not about being anti-immigrant but about following the federal law. “Everything in this puts the burden on the department of Homeland Security and ICE,” he said. “This is about being pro-law.”
But Johnson’s resolution didn’t fly with the four other commissioners, and they easily sunk it into the trash basket with the help of Republican Commissioner Lonnie Talbert. Talbert applauded the civil discourse that took place. “A lot of good comments were heard. I am going to continue to stand behind the current resolution,” he said.
Democrat commissioners also stood by their positions. Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said the county has a lawful, immigrant-friendly policy in place. “This is a community that embraces diversity and tolerance,” she said.
Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins summed things up when she said US Attorney General Jeff Sessions comments about withholding funding from the four targeted cities are offensive, very ignorant and just stupid. “We live in this community—none of want to protect the criminals. What we do want to do is respect the US Constitution,” she said.
Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada, who introduced the current policy back in March, said Bernalillo County is immigrant-friendly and will not use resources to help ICE agents round up immigrants. “When you push people into darkness … be prepared for what comes out of the darkness. I come from that neighborhood. We need our citizens to feel safe and welcome and reach out to our police officers,” he said.
Sheriff Manuel Gonzales asked commissioners to give his department about $9 million to hire 60 new sworn deputies and five civilians to better take on crime across the entire county/metro area.
“I think you are aware of the red flag issues going on in our community. My concern is obviously for citizens of Bernalillo county.” He said calls for service spiked 73 percent over the last four years.
During public comment, a couple of folks spoke in favor of the funding increase. “We have a crime problem here, and we have to do something about it,” one resident said. Another speaker said he supported the funding. He combined the two hot issues on the table. “The Mexican cartel is here, they are coming with heroin and cocaine,” this bilingual speaker said. “They are not coming with love.”
There was no decision made, as this was merely a discussion item on the agenda. Commission and county staff reviews pointed out several problems with his request and suggested looking at various ways of phasing in the new deputies and addressing some of the crime needs in the city part of the county. Further discussion on the unresolved matter will be scheduled for upcoming commission meetings.
Forty-one people signed up to speak their minds in a minute and a half with most of them getting unchallenged rounds of applause. The comments were passionate, civil and at times eloquent.
• Many of the 35 NM Dream Team members in attendance spoke out and identified themselves. “I am undocumented, unashamed and unafraid.” “Albuquerque is my home and I don’t want to live in fear of being deported.” “When our communities thrive—Albuquerque thrives.” “I don’t deny Albuquerque has a crime problem, but this is the result of economic and health disparities in our community.” “We know how to live with diversity; that is one of our special strengths.”
• A leader from the New Mexico Conference of Churches called out Johnson by name, reminding him that, “It is our duty to protect the dignity of all persons.”
• A member of the Islamic Society summed up much of the comments by saying, “… the people of the faith community want you to stand strong against this bullying—reject the resolution, commit to reinforcing current immigrant-friendly policy—and take a clear, strong stand in the future.”
• A local ACLU attorney reminded the Commission that their organization has the law on their side as regards the Constitution and its amendments, urging them to uphold justice and reject Johnson’s attempt to satisfy Sessions.