SANTA FE – New Mexico, the state with the largest percentage of Hispanic residents in the nation, could be the latest to adopt sanctuary status regarding immigrants, under a Democratic plan.
Identical Democratic proposals introduced in the New Mexico House and Senate say state agencies would be barred from cooperating with federal immigration authorities seeking to hold or deport immigrants suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.
The authority of sheriffs and jails to hold federal immigrant detainees also would see new limits.
In addition, state agencies couldn’t use public funds to help federal authorities in “detecting, apprehending, arresting, detaining or prolonging the detention of a person” facing possible deportation.
The bills, co-sponsored by Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Espanola, and Sen. Linda M. Lopez, D-Albuquerque, were proposed after intense pressure from immigrant advocacy groups.
A number of New Mexico cities and towns have declared themselves sanctuaries. Activists have pressed communities nationwide for the declaration amid immigration enforcement proposals by President Donald Trump.
Emmanuelle “Neza” Leal-Sanchez, a spokesman for the Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said activists believed it was time for the state to join the national movement.
“These are policies that have been proven to make communities safer,” Leal-Sanchez said.
Immigrants would be more likely to report crimes if they know that local law enforcement won’t enforce federal immigration laws, Leal-Sanchez said.
Republican Rep. Alonzo Baldonado of Los Lunas said he didn’t know if that was true and such a law would make New Mexico less safe.
“Our law enforcement agencies need to be able to interact with other agencies, including federal ones,” Baldonado said.
He said Republicans will oppose the measure and would seek to convince conservative Democrats in the New Mexico Senate to block it.
Roybal Caballero said Democrats feel strapped law enforcement agencies shouldn’t be involved in immigration enforcement.
Democrats recently extended their majority in the state House and immigrant advocates are hopeful that Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would sign such a proposal.
Lujan Grisham served as chairwoman of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus as a member of the U.S. House and has spoken in favor of immigrant rights. However, she did not mention immigration in her State of the State address.
Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Lujan Grisham, said the governor was aware of the proposal but did not say if she would support it.
“The governor certainly believes law enforcement resources should be put toward measures that will enhance public safety in our communities, not the sort of punitive and often arbitrary immigration tack of the current federal government,” Stelnicki said.