N.M. Senate narrowly rejects ban on immigrant detention, supporters warn abuses will carry on

Six Democrats join Republicans to kill legislation, one abstained due to a business conflict and two more were marked absent

By: - February 7, 2024 3:04 am

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, (D-Albuquerque), reacts as Senate Bill 145 fails to pass on the Senate Floor, Tuesday, February 6, 2024. (Photo by Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journal)

The upper chamber of New Mexico’s Legislature on Tuesday voted to once again reject a proposal that would have barred local governments from hiring federal immigration police to detain people for civil violations of federal immigration law.

In an 18-21 vote on Tuesday afternoon, the New Mexico Senate voted not to pass Senate Bill 145, which would have prohibited local governments from entering or renewing contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain people seeking asylum in the United States.

“We should not be complicit in this detention, and in treating people inhumanely,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez (D-Albuquerque), one of the bill’s five sponsors. “This bill seeks dignity and not detention.”

Six Democrats joined Republicans on Tuesday to vote down the measure: Sens. Pete Campos (D-Las Vegas), Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces), Robert Gonzales (D-Rancho De Taos), Martin Hickey (D-Albuquerque), George Muñoz (D-Gallup) and Benny Shendo (D-Jemez Pueblo).

Since the bill failed to pass the Senate, it cannot be considered in the House of Representatives.

Advocates are disappointed that so much of the debate on the bill on Tuesday wasn’t based in fact or reality, said Sofia Genovese, the managing attorney at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center and an expert on the bill.

Genovese pointed to Cervantes’ inaccurate claim that advocates are the only ones who are calling attention to the conditions in the prisons. During his time debating on the Senate floor, Cervantes said ICE, Border Patrol and Homeland Security officials should have been available to testify on the bill.

“We ought to really have answers, because we’re only guessing,” Cervantes told the Senate. “We’re entirely guessing by the information from the advocacy group, which is that if we close down the New Mexico facilities, fewer people will be detained. We really don’t have any data, information or statistics, to my mind, to support that.”

Several government oversight agencies have repeatedly found that each of the three federal detention facilities in New Mexico are failing to meet basic standards, Genovese said. The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General has twice called for the closure of the prison in Torrance County.

“These aren’t things that advocates are making up, these are things that the government’s own watchdogs have sounded the alarm about, so it’s frustrating to see these complaints minimized when they are well substantiated,” Genovese said.

Genovese said advocates are also disappointed in two Democrats who were absent for the vote: Sens. Siah Correa Hemphill, (D-Silver City) and Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics (D-Cerrillos).

When the Senate clerk went through the roll call vote, Hemphill and Stefanics along with Sen. Katy Duhigg (D-Albuquerque) could not be seen on the Senate floor. Their votes were marked as “absent” on the official tally.

Duhigg was formally excused from voting because her law firm represents Management and Training Company, which runs the Otero County Prison Facility.

Stefanics said she was “called away dealing with a capital issue with the Gov’s staff and other matters.” Hemphill did not respond to an email seeking comment.

“We didn’t see Democrats live up to New Mexican values today,” Genovese said. “It’s really disappointing because people will continue to suffer in these facilities, and they’ll certainly continue to hear about it from us, each and every single time someone suffers harm, each and every single time someone dies, they’re going to hear about it.”

Correction Feb. 7 at 10:00 a.m.: This story has been corrected to reflect the correct vote tally, and which senators were absent and excused.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.

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