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WED: Trump Sending Federal Agents To ABQ, Governor To Monitor Any Civil Rights Violations, +More

US Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox
Creative Commons

Trump Targets Albuquerque Crime With Security Deployments - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

President Trump is focusing on an open wound in the law enforcement community as he announces a surge in federal agents to cities including Albuquerque and Chicago in attempts to contain violent crime.

At the White House, Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr turned the microphone over to Sam Vigil to recount his early morning discovery on Nov. 19, 2019, that his wife, Jackie, had been shot and died in their Albuquerque driveway as she left to exercise at a gym.

"My wife didn't deserve to be killed that way," Vigil said. "We desperately need some help at going after crime rates."

The announcement prompted immediate concerns among Democratic elected officials in New Mexico of federal overreach and the potential for new civil rights abuses. Albuquerque has wrestled with issues of police brutality and reforms under a consent decree with the Department of Justice.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas said they will actively monitor federal law enforcement operations for any civil rights violations.

Albuquerque-based District Attorney Raùl Torrez said federal agents must stay within their traditional crime-fighting roles.

"If the Trump administration wishes to antagonize New Mexicans and Americans with authoritarian, unnecessary and unaccountable military-style 'crackdowns,' they have no business whatsoever in New Mexico," Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

The Trump administration is facing a growing backlash — in the courts and on the streets — to sending federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security to Portland, Oregon, where protests have spiraled into violence, and vowing to do the same in other Democratic-led cities.

Barr drew a distinction between the federal response in Portland and the agents being dispatched to cities such as Albuquerque and Chicago in coordination with local law enforcement.

"This is a different kind of operation, obviously, than the tactical teams we use to defend against riots and mob violence," Barr said. "The operations we're discussing today are very different. They are classic crime fighting."

Trump warned that crime is spiraling out of control in American cities — including Democrat-led Albuquerque and Chicago.

"When they abdicate their duty, the results are catastrophic," he said.

The Democratic sheriff of New Mexico's most populous county that includes Albuquerque traveled to the White House for discussion of the initiative — prompting a string of rebukes from fellow Democrats.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales — who has been at odds on issues of policing, gun control and police body cameras with the state's Democratic governor and Albuquerque's Democratic mayor — defended the visit in a news release as an extension of his commitment to reduce local crime and gun violence.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich called Tuesday on Gonzales to resign, amid uncertainty about the consequences of the sheriff's White House visit.

"Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President's stormtroopers into Albuquerque," Heinrich said in a statement.

The Department of Justice said its effort involves $71 million in recent and pending grants to local law enforcement agencies. The plan will provide more federal agents in coordination with local law enforcement in Albuquerque, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis and Milwaukee.

Usually, the Justice Department sends agents under its own umbrella, like agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or the Drug Enforcement Agency. But this surge effort will include Department of Homeland Security Investigations officers, who generally conduct drug trafficking and child exploitation investigations.

New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said the federal response is appropriate given local crime rates, evidence of human trafficking in a border state and the need for adequate security surrounding national defense installations in Albuquerque — at Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories.

"Calling these federal agents stormtroppers, there is nothing further from the truth," Pearce said. "That's the problem with the deep partisanship that's dividing the country right now. It's asinine to tell you the truth."

Amid a wave of national protests over policing practices, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has announced a proposal to create a city agency to focus on community safety by deploying social workers and other civilian professionals with a focus on violence prevention, mental health and homelessness.

The state's top elections regulator, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, issued her own warning Wednesday about any possible deployment of federal troops to Albuquerque in advance of November elections, saying it would have an intimidating effect on voters.

Albuquerque-based U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland appeared at a congressional hearing Tuesday to condemn the deployment of unmarked federal officers in tactical gear to confront protesters in downtown Portland, Oregon, and express concern about what is to come in New Mexico.

Trump May Deploy More Federal Officers To Albuquerque, Sen. Heinrich Calls For Bernalillo County Sheriff To Resign KUNM, KRQE-TV, CBS News, Associated Press

President Donald Trump may deploy federal law enforcement agents to Albuquerque, among other cities, according to a memo obtained by CBS News. This in an apparent expansion of operations in which federal agents, some working out of unmarked vehicles, have violently cracked down on protestors in Portland, Oregon over the last two weeks. The federal presence in Portland has drawn intense criticism from local leaders there who say it has only exacerbated tensions rather than promoting public safety.

KRQE-TV reports the potential deployment of additional federal agents to Albuquerque comes as Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales plans to meet with Trump at the White House Wednesday about federal agents’ involvement in local policing.

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich in a statement Tuesday condemned the visit and called for Gonzales to resign, saying the sheriff is inviting the agents into the city. Heinrich went on to say Trump is using federal agents like “a domestic paramilitary force,” which he said is “precisely how fascism begins.”

Mayor Tim Keller derided the potential deployment of more federal agents to Albuquerque, calling it “a stunt” fueled by a political agenda that could turn the city into “a federal police state.” Attorney for the City of Albuquerque, Esteban Aguilar, Jr., confirmed in a statement Tuesday that the city did not request the presence of federal agents and does not believe they are needed.

Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier acknowledged the department already coordinates with federal law enforcement but expressed concern that the deployment in response to protests could be a “cheap political stunt” that hurts city safety rather than bolstering it.

Testing Supplies Run Short For Albuquerque Health Providers Associated Press

Officials with major health care providers in Albuquerque say they're having to temporarily stop COVID-19 testing for people who are asymptomatic.

That's because there has been an unanticipated disruption in testing supplies. University of New Mexico Hospital, Presbyterian and Lovelace health system locations will conduct testing only for patients showing symptoms.

Presbyterian also will continue testing for those who have been exposed to someone with a confirmed infection.

Statewide, thousands of people are being tested per day. New Mexico health officials say tests since the pandemic began topped 481,000 on Tuesday.

The health care systems in Albuquerque are telling people without symptoms or known exposure, and workers looking for clearance by their employers to check the New Mexico Department of Health website for alternative testing locations.

State health officials reported another 316 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 17,828. Those include six cases among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County and the Otero County Prison Facility.

There were also three more deaths reported Wednesday. A total of 591 New Mexicans have died due to COVID-19.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Officials with the health care providers said symptoms meeting the criteria for testing include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, a loss of taste or smell, congestion, fatigue, headache, nausea and diarrhea.

Navajo Nation Will Extend Closure Of Government OfficesAssociated Press

Navajo Nation officials say President Jonathan Nez will sign a new executive order to keep a portion of the tribal government closed through Aug. 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Divisions, departments and offices under the executive branch were due to reopen July 27 under the previous executive order that Nez signed late last month.

Tribal officials told the Farmington Daily Times that Nez's decision was based on recommendations and data from health-care experts.

Steps for reopening the government remain under evaluation and Nez said his administration is in the process of finalizing a plan to reopen the executive branch in stages. 

The Navajo Nation's three-branch government has been closed to the public and restrictions on services have been in place since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in March.

The tribe has been flattening the curve in new cases since June, but areas surrounding tribal land have seen surges.

As of Tuesday, the total of infected tribal members stood at 8,639 with 425 known deaths.

Residents of the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been under a mandate to wear masks when out in public.

The tribe also has daily, nighttime curfews and weekend lockdowns that include the closure of businesses.

New Mexico Governor Thanks Trump For Joining Mask MovementAssociated Press, Albuquerque Journal, KUNM

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is thanking President Donald Trump for telling Americans that they should wear masks when they're unable to keep distance between themselves and other people.

The Democrat tweeted her appreciation Tuesday, saying: "Thanks for joining us, Mr. President."

Masks are mandated in New Mexico as the state has been dealing with an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Health officials reported Tuesday an additional 307 cases. That brings the statewide total to 17,517 since the pandemic began. Officials also reported an additional 10 deaths, bringing that tally to 588.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that is the most deaths in one day since mid-June.

McKinley saw the largest number of deaths with four. The others were in Bernalillo, Cibola, Grant, Lea, Lincoln and Sandoval counties.

Those who died ranged in age from the 40s to 90s and all but one had underlying health conditions that put them at more risk for serious complications from the virus.

Navajo Nation Reports 22 More COVID-19 Cases, 3 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials report 22 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three additional known deaths. 

The total of infected tribal members on the vast reservation now stands at 8,639 with 425 known deaths as of Tuesday. 

Health officials also say 74,045 people have been tested and 6,437 have recovered from the coronavirus. 

Residents of the reservation that extends into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah have been under a mandate to wear masks when out in public. The tribe also has daily, nighttime curfews and weekend lockdowns that include the closure of businesses. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said officials are working on an order that would require residents who travel to areas known as hot spots for coronavirus infections to quarantine for 14 days when they return to the reservation.

Western New Mexico University Opts For Online Start In Fall - Associated Press

Officials at Western New Mexico University are opting for an online start to the fall semester. 

The school announced Tuesday that classes will be offered online from Aug. 17 through Sept. 7. 

A hybrid model with some face-to-face and hands-on activities will be in place after the Labor Day holiday through November. Online classes will then resume as students won't be required to return to campus after Thanksgiving break. 

University President Joseph Shepard said facts and science will guide officials' decisions rather than emotions and politics. 

He says above all, the safety of students, faculty and staff is the primary focus.

Hispanic Activist Wants Chicano Studies Classes Censored - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

A New Mexico Hispanic activist upset about the removal of Spanish conquistador monuments is pushing for New Mexico to end its support for Chicano and Native American Studies. 

New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens executive director and chair of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, Ralph Arellanes, wrote the University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes on Monday that the state's largest university should dismantle both programs because they teach Latino students "self-hate" about their Spanish heritage. 

Arellanes says he is angry some classes teach students that Spanish conquistadors are linked to the genocide of Indigenous populations. 

Irene Vasquez, the director of the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department, said "It's incredulous.” "This is not a serious criticism. But we must be doing something right because we are growing." According to university numbers, enrollment in Chicano studies classes on campus has jumped from 96 in 2011 to 707 last fall.

The demand comes as Albuquerque and the small community of Alcalde removed statues of Spanish conquistadors following racial injustice protests. Some Native Americans in New Mexico have long objected to the public glorification of Spanish conquistadors like Don Juan de Oñate, who they blamed for violence and enslavement of some Indigenous populations during the region's Spanish colonial period.

But some Hispanic activists, like Arellanes, who trace their family lineage to early Spanish settlers, regularly celebrate Oñate and other similar figures.

Arellanes' suggestion drew sharp reactions from civil rights advocates. 

New Mexico LULAC State Director Juan Garcia said Arellanes' demand was not the stand of the civil rights group in the state.

State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, a former national LULAC board member, also said Arellanes did not represent the views of many civil rights advocates who pushed for the creation of Chicano and Native studies classes.

Ernesto Todd Mireles, a Rocky Mountain regional representative for the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, called the demand an attack on academic freedom.

New Mexico Looks For 'Sweet Spot' In Crafting Methane Rules - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico regulators say they have taken best practices from around the U.S. and come up with new ideas as the state moves forward with mandating reductions in methane and other pollutants from the oil and gas industry.

State environment and energy officials on Tuesday provided more details about the proposed regulations. The public has 30 days to comment before regulators hammer out the final rules.

The proposal includes requirements for reporting emissions data and a path forward for collecting revenues on vented and flared gas, which could bring in millions of dollars annually to benefit public schools.

The effort to build a new regulatory system for methane pollution began last year and involved a special committee of experts that hosted hours of discussion and technical presentations by scientists, environmentalists and experts in the industry.

State officials said Tuesday that the proposed rules aim for the most reductions possible.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association and others in the industry have said the rules need to be flexible and not so restrictive as to curtail the industry's ability to recover from what has been a historic drop in prices and reduced demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Feds Give 65 Acres Of Land For Border Wall Infrastructure - By Astrid Galvan, The Associated Press

The federal Bureau of Land Management says it has transferred over 65 acres of public land in Arizona and New Mexico to the Army for border wall infrastructure.

The agency says it handed over 53 acres in Yuma County, Arizona, that is needed to install power and other utilities around the border wall there. Another 12.7 acres in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, were transferred so that the Army could install power and other utilities along with engineering for roads that provide access to the border wall project there.

Critics say construction of the border wall and infrastructure around imperils wildlife and protected land. 

This marks the third time in the past year that the agency has transferred public land to the military for border wall-related construction. The first was in September 2019, when it transferred 560 acres in the same two states, and the second was last month.

The agency, which manages 245 million acres of public land total, says the land transfer is in part because of border security concerns and in response to environmental impacts it says are caused by illegal border crossings.

The Trump administration aims to build 450 miles of barriers along the southern border. Most of the new construction entails 30-foot steel fencing.

Environmental and conservation groups, along with Native American tribes, have criticized the government heavily for waiving laws to build on protected lands.

Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the land management bureau should be safeguarding the public lands, "not handing them over to be butchered for the border wall."

The center and others have sued the Trump administration over its use of military funds to build border barriers, saying it is illegal.

"The roads, lighting and other infrastructure being installed along the borderlands are a disaster for wildlife and communities and an absurd waste of money. The agency's attempt to spin it otherwise is laughable," Segee said in a statement.


This story was first published on July 21, 2020. It was updated on July 24, 2020 to correct the number of times the BLM has made such land transfers. The agency has made two prior similar land transfers since last year, for a total of three.