New Mexico workers, immigrants and their families show political strength in Santa Fe

Laborers want expanded protections when they lose jobs, lawmakers offer support and intent to create fund that supports their needs

By: - January 31, 2023 4:30 am

Immigrant activists from Hobbs listen to speakers at the Immigrant and Workers Day of Action. Immigrants from across the state traveled to the Roundhouse to petition their lawmakers to invest in education and expand unemployment benefits and social services. (Photo by Megan Taros for Source NM)

When the pandemic hit, Antonio Bañuelos started to realize immigrant workers like him were being shut out of crucial unemployment benefits.

People who lost jobs were left to survive without unemployment benefits and medical coverage that their employer might have provided.

“When there’s not much work and they start laying off people, and there’s not that kind of benefit (unemployment), I see that it’s difficult for people to survive,” Bañuelos said in Spanish. “There’s not a lot of equality and support for us.”

Bañuelos traveled from Hobbs with other immigrant workers to Santa Fe to lobby the Legislature to expand their protections and education opportunities for the families their wages support.

He wasn’t alone.

Hundreds of activists turned up at the Roundhouse for Immigrant and Workers Day of Action, a day of civic action where immigrants and their families are encouraged to engage with their representatives and talk about their needs.

Legislators like Rep. Linda Serrato (D-Santa Fe), a sponsor of HB 188, which would create the Economic Transition Division within the Economic Development Department, spoke at the rally in front of the Capitol.

She urged participants to make their voices heard.

“This Roundhouse is your house more than ever before,” Serrato said. “You have allies across both chambers and we’re here to make sure that what you tell us is important to our families that are feeding our families, that are taking care of our families, that are bringing natural resources to our families, that those families are cared for.”

Advocates from Albuquerque representing EL CENTRO Poder y Acción, an immigrant rights nonprofit, lead chants at the Immigrant and Workers Day of Action on Monday. Berta Campos came with the group and said she wanted to ask her lawmakers to invest in education. “We’re workers and we pay taxes, so why can’t we have those privileges?” (Photo by Megan Taros for Source NM)

The bill, which has four other sponsors from across the state, would first start with a task force to analyze the impact of transitioning away from extractive industries with a focus on communities disproportionately affected by economic, environmental and health impacts of those industries.

It would also seek to make an economic development fund to use toward job training programs, relocation assistance and child care for workers who may lose their jobs.

Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant rights nonprofit in Santa Fe, and its supporters have stood in support of the bill’s move to shift from oil to clean energy.

The bill has been assigned to the House Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee and the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. It has not yet received a hearing date.

Other advocates showed up to speak to their representatives about access to child care and other social programs. Elvira Amador, a former housekeeper who is now a community advocate in Gallup for Somos, wanted to see better child care options for immigrant workers in her community. She supported HB 188 for its child care stipends for families impacted by the transition away from extractive industries.

“There are many young moms, single moms who need to have a place to leave their kids where they know they’re being well taken care of and that the government can help them by giving them enough money so that they can be calm at work knowing their kids are OK,” Amador said in Spanish.

She said she was grateful for the opportunity to come to the statehouse because it is not an opportunity she would’ve had in Mexico and she wanted to advocate for those who couldn’t make it. It is also difficult to gather all her community at once because “the work never stops” for immigrant families because many can’t take time off to be civically engaged, she said.

Berta Campos, who came from Albuquerque with the immigrant rights nonprofit EL CENTRO Poder y Acción, is concerned with the lack of investment in schools in her community and the teacher shortage.

The pandemic created negative impacts on student outcomes in their classrooms, a point the state is working to address. Campos shared an experience felt across New Mexico, some students don’t have a stable teacher throughout the year – or even a teacher at all.

“It’s not fair that our children are paying for that,” she said. “I know there’s (school funding) they’re going to give out. Not all schools are on the same level and there should be a priority to give that funding to schools that have the greatest need.”

She also wanted to see changes to unemployment and the child tax credit. She said undocumented immigrants and low-income families often don’t receive enough money from the tax credit to help their families, and many immigrants can’t receive unemployment benefits, putting them in a precarious place if they lose their jobs.

“Immigrant laborers, we contribute, pay taxes and everything and we don’t have any access to that,” Campos said. “The federal stimulus excluded us. But we’re all human beings, we’re all equal and there’s no difference. We’re workers and we pay taxes, so why can’t we have those privileges?”

Campos said it was important to her to show up at the Roundhouse for the day of action to set an example to young people to stand up for themselves politically.

But the fight is far from over.

María Romano, a community organizer for Somos based in Hobbs said their current representation is not doing a quality job meeting their needs.

While the group was focused on seeking change from local leadership, they were galvanized by a win at the federal level when Democratic challenger Gabe Vasquez unseated incumbent Yvette Herrell in the 2nd Congressional District race last November.

It’s something the group was encouraged to remember for the next election.

“We’re not a community, we’re an island,” she said. “We don’t have medical services, we don’t have legal services, we don’t have anything. And our representatives don’t represent us and we’re tired of them…and we won’t stop until they represent us with dignity.”

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Megan Taros
Megan Taros

Megan Taros is a freelance reporter for Source NM. She is born and raised in the harbor area of Los Angeles where she began her career covering higher education and local government. She previously launched the South Phoenix beat at the Arizona Republic where she covered race and equity in one of the largest communities of color in the state. She also launched the Latino affairs beat at the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she covered racial and economic inequality in Queens, New York.

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