Columns

New Mexico Democrats Vow to Defy Trump on Sanctuary Cities

(Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

New Mexico has turned into a microcosm of the nation’s sanctuary city debate.

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D) is leading an uprising against President Trump’s threat to cut off federal funding to sanctuary cities and states by proposing legislation that would make New Mexico’s sanctuary state status official.

A 2011 executive order from Gov. Susana Martinez directed New Mexico State Police to ask about immigration status when an arrest is made. Despite that, the Department of Homeland Security still lists New Mexico as a sanctuary state.

The Associated Press reported Roybal Caballero’s legislation would carve New Mexico’s sanctuary state status in stone by stopping state and local police from enforcing federal immigration laws.

Her legislation is exactly the kind of thing that ticked off the Trump administration and triggered a threat in January to cut off federal funding to a list of close to 300 city, county and state governments that had refused to hold illegal immigrants for federal authorities.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” Trump’s executive order said. “These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic.”

Trump’s threat of a federal funding cutoff upsets Roybal Caballero. But more than that, she is worried about the estimated 85,000 people who crossed the border without papers and settled in New Mexico, illegally.

“Now that we have a threat to our state’s values in the White House,” she said, “we must do everything we can to keep our families strong and together.”

Fellow Democrat Rep. Javier Martinez echoed that sentiment when he told the Albuquerque Journal of his support for Roybal Caballero’s proposal that was introduced in late January.

“I don’t believe that the federal government should be in the business of bullying states,” Martinez said.

On the other side of the debate is Republican Rep. Monica Youngblood. She thinks it would be wrong to circumvent federal law. And, yes, she is worried about losing millions of dollars in federal funding.

“I can’t predict whether or not a confrontation will ensue,” she said in an email to the Journal, “but I think these cities could ultimately face a loss of federal funding, which only hurts their ability to adequately serve and protect the residents of these cities.”

At least one city leader in New Mexico isn’t being swayed by White House threats.

Santa Fe became a sanctuary city by official edict in 1999 and Mayor Javier Gonzales told KRQE-TV he does not plan to change that status no matter what executive orders come out of the White House.

If Trump’s not bluffing, it could cost Santa Fe $6 million in lost federal funding. That’s about 2 percent of the city’s budget.

Gonzales said what Trump has done by leveling the threat of cutting off federal funding is just wrong.

“There are some constitutional provisions that prevent the federal government from overreaching, from using federal funds to coerce us into doing things that really is a federal responsibility,” said Gonzales.

Even if he’s proven wrong on that, Gonzales said Santa Fe’s status as a sanctuary city is good for the community.

“Families feel safe, they’re more productive in our community, and of course I believe that we’re stronger for it,” Gonzales said.

Albuquerque, N.M., was a sanctuary city until Mayor Richard Berry changed its municipal mind.

Berry canceled the city’s sanctuary city status in May 2010 and implemented a new policy to screen everyone who was arrested by Albuquerque police to see if they were in the country legally.

“If you’re arrested in Albuquerque — regardless of who you are and where you’re born — if you’re a citizen or not, you will be face to face with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] at this facility,” Berry said in May 2010.

He also promised that if convicted, illegal immigrants would serve their sentences and could be deported.

“I’m not looking at this as an immigration issue, but more as a public safety issue,” said Berry.

He pointed to the arrests of two men shortly after sanctuary city status was scrapped as evidence that the new policy was working. An accused heroin dealer and another man charged with child molestation both turned out to be in the U.S. illegally.

“This approach is not about targeting any group of people based on race. It’s about targeting criminals, plain and simple,” Berry said in a statement when he undid sanctuary city status. “If you are a criminal, I want Albuquerque to be a bad place for you to be.”