Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico AG greenlights new task force, creates online portal for missing Indigenous people • Source New Mexico

Attorney General Raúl Torrez plans to establish a task force focused on the disproportionate rates at which Indigenous people experience violence and go missing, the New Mexico Department of Justice announced Tuesday. The agency also launched the initial phase of an online portal for tracking cases of missing Indigenous people.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration in mid-2023 dissolved a group dedicated to addressing a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Advocates and affected families spoke against the decision, saying their work was just beginning.

The Legislature seemed to agree, unanimously passing Senate Joint Memorial 2 last month calling on Torrez to convene tribal representatives, survivors and families, and law enforcement officials to update a state response plan created by the defunct task force in 2022 and offer legislative recommendations.

The state budget includes $200,000 for that purpose.

A spokesperson for Torrez, Lauren Rodriguez, said he’ll follow the Legislature’s guidance outlined in the memorial as he figures out the task force’s membership.

The public portal unveiled on Tuesday — which includes 201 missing Indigenous people, with an average time missing of 2,886 days, or nearly eight years — comes two years after lawmakers mandated it.

Lawmakers in 2022 passed a bill requiring the attorney general’s office to develop an online portal for cases of missing Indigenous people. The bill permits the department to give tribes grants, as well, to help them use the portal. Lawmakers appropriated $1 million for the work. In November, New Mexico In Depth reported none of the money had been spent.

“We have to break down barriers to communication in this space and give the public and key stakeholders direct access” to information, Torrez said in a news release, adding the portal is a “critical first step in that process and will provide invaluable insights for policymakers,” including the task force he intends to create.

The portal lists known missing persons cases and provides families with information about where they can file cases, depending on where they live.

But for the portal to be as useful as possible, it needs to include more information, said Darlene Gomez, a member of the defunct task force and attorney who represents affected families pro-bono.

Gomez pointed out the missing persons entries don’t have photos attached to them and don’t include many details.

“To me it just seems like something that they just threw up there to say they have a portal,” Gomez said. “And if this is what they’re going to produce, why did it take them two years to do so?”

The department is working to gain access to criminal justice information systems maintained by the FBI, Rodriguez said in an email, which will allow for more detailed entries, including photos.

Rodriguez said the department doesn’t yet have the ability to directly collect reports on the portal because that will require memorandums of understanding. For now, she said, the portal directs people to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T).

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