State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero once owned a home in El Paso, Texas, where she says the U.S. Border Patrol interrogated her because she has dark-brown skin and wore a sombrero while working in her yard.
The border agents questioned her about her country of birth, she said, and then called her aggressive after she told them her hometown of El Paso was part of the United States, meaning she is a U.S. citizen.
With her personal story as a backdrop, Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, pitched her bill to a House panel Thursday to make New Mexico a sanctuary state. The proposal would prevent state agencies or their political subdivisions from using government employees or resources to investigate people whose only violation might be living in the United States without proof of immigration status.
Her proposal, House Bill 116, cleared the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 3-2 vote. Both Republicans on the committee voted against it.
Roybal Caballero said her bill to stop local enforcement of federal immigration laws is intended to prevent racial profiling and harassment, such as the type she said she experienced in El Paso. Her bill comes as Republican President Donald Trump has stoked a fervor over illegal immigration with his vows to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and to cut federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities and states.
Roybal Caballero said the political climate nationally may make people who appear to be foreigners more vulnerable to racial profiling by police agencies.
She probably can get her bill through the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives and Senate, but it stands almost no chance of being signed into law.
That’s because Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in 2011 overturned an executive order by her predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson, that had prevented police in state agencies of inquiring about immigration status in traffic stops or when investigating a case.
“One of the governor’s first actions in office was to end the state’s sanctuary policy for illegal immigrants,” Martinez’s spokesman, Michael Lonergan, said Thursday.
Under Martinez’s order, state police can inquire about immigration status in the course of traffic stops or investigations. But they are not supposed to ask victims of domestic violence or other crimes whether they are in New Mexico lawfully. Martinez has said she does not want to discourage anyone from seeking help from police or reporting crimes.
Roybal Caballero said she is offering a commonsense measure that would allow police to focus on crime, not suspicions about immigration status. An official with the American Civil Liberties Union also spoke in favor of the bill.
Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, said when he is stopped for a traffic infraction police also check his record for arrest warrants. He asked Roybal Caballero if her bill would hinder police from that sort of investigation.
Roybal Caballero said it would not. Every motorist stopped in a traffic case is subject to police inquiries for warrants or probation violations, she said. But if the motorist provides a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance, the officer should not delve deeper to try to establish whether the driver has a lawful presence in the country, she said.
New Mexico issues immigrants privilege cards that allow then to drive legally in New Mexico.
Wooley and Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, voted against the bill. Youngblood referred to an analysis of the bill by Democratic state Attorney General Hector Balderas’ staff as one of her reasons for opposing the measure. The analysis said Roybal Caballero’s proposal could jeopardize federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies.
Santa Fe since 1999 has had a policy of not using its resources or employees to enforce federal immigration law. But defendants arrested by Santa Fe police officers on suspicion of serious crimes are subject to investigations that reveal if they have a lawful presence in America.
In addition, Santa Fe now is considering removing the word “sanctuary” from its policy of not actively enforcing federal immigration law. This change, in the eyes of some city officials, would make Santa Fe seem less antagonistic to Trump’s administration.
Roybal Caballero’s bill goes next to the House Judiciary Committee. Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has introduced a companion bill in the Senate to make New Mexico a sanctuary state. Lopez’s proposal is Senate Bill 270.