Democratic state senators joined Republicans on Tuesday to reject legislation that would have barred local governments from hiring federal immigration police to detain individuals for civil violations of federal immigration law.
In an 18-20 vote on Tuesday afternoon, the New Mexico Senate voted not to pass Senate Bill 172, 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.
Since the bill failed to pass the Senate, it cannot be considered by the House of Representatives this session.
The three facilities that detain people with immigrant status in New Mexico are located in Cibola, Otero and Torrance Counties. No other local governments in the state contract with ICE to incarcerate immigrants while they await their day in court.
Opponents in the Senate on Tuesday tried to portray asylum-seekers as criminals and argued that the bill, if passed, would have faced legal challenges and would have harmed the local economies where the prisons are located.
The detention of asylum-seekers under immigration law is completely discretionary, said Sophia Genovese, a senior attorney with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center and an expert on the bill. She said this means that people can be released at any time because they do not pose a risk to public safety.
Sen. Ron Griggs (R-Alamogordo) said the bill would violate the U.S. Constitution and the Legislature would face legal action if it approved the measure.
Sen. William Burt (R-Alamogordo) pointed to analysis by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office that says a similar law in California was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Griggs, Burt and Muñoz represent counties with ICE detention facilities. They each voted against the bill.
Part of the U.S. Constitution “precludes states from dictating to the federal government who can perform federal work,” the AG’s office wrote.
Sen. Antonio Maestas (D-Albuquerque) argued on the Senate floor that the California law tried to ban private prisons in general, but this bill would specifically ban Intergovernmental Support Agreements with ICE for the purpose of detaining immigrants.
“That portion of California’s law was actually upheld,” Maestas said.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque), a sponsor of the bill, on Tuesday told senators about the hazardous conditions at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia documented by the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, including lack of basic medical care, severe understaffing and cells that routinely flood with human excrement.
“We found many of them being detained in local facilities are being detained under conditions that are far from adequate,” Ortiz y Pino said. “People who visited them and talked to them have found them seriously lacking in nutrition and health care. There have been incidents where they’ve attempted suicide.”
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in January told U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cabinet Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that what’s happening at Torrance County Detention Center in New Mexico needs to improve, particularly if the federal government wants the state to keep licensing those facilities.
People held in the immigration facilities also face deteriorating infrastructure, a rat infestation at the Cibola County facility, bug infestations in Torrance County, inedible food, racism and xenophobia by guards, willful disregard for their medical and mental health care, Genovese told a panel of senators earlier in March.
“No amount of oversight has remedied these problems,” she said.
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