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FRI: Five Democratic officials' homes and offices shot up in New Mexico, + More

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Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina (right) and Mayor Tim Killer (left) at a news conference announcing the string of shootings targeting the homes and offices of Democratic elected officials. It's not yet been determined if the shootings are connected.

Democratic officials' homes, offices shot up in New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan And Morgan Lee Associated Press

The homes or offices of five elected Democratic officials in New Mexico, including the new attorney general, have been buffeted by gunfire over the past month, and authorities are working to determine if the attacks are connected.

Nobody was injured in the shootings, which are being investigated by local and federal authorities, said Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina. He called the investigation a top priority.

The attacks come amid a sharp rise in threats to members of Congress and two years after supporters of then-President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol and sent lawmakers running for their lives. Local school board members and election workers across the country have also endured harassment, intimidation and threats of violence.

In New Mexico, the assaults began on Dec. 4, when someone shot eight rounds at the Albuquerque home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, police said. Seven days later, someone fired more than a dozen times at the Albuquerque house of then-Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O'Malley.

On Dec. 10, ShotSpotter technology detected several gunshots in the area of New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez's former campaign office, police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said. The attorney general had already moved out of the office following his November election.

Just this week, multiple shots were fired at the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez and the office of state Sen. Moe Maestas.

"It is traumatizing to have several bullets shot directly through my front door when my family and I were getting ready to celebrate Christmas," Barboa, who has been a county commissioner since January 2021, told Albuquerque TV station KRQE. "No one deserves threatening and dangerous attacks like this."

O'Malley, who left her position as commissioner after serving a maximum of two terms, said in an email that she and her husband were asleep before the gunfire struck the adobe wall surrounding their home.

"To say I am angry about this attack on my home— on my family, is the least of it," O'Malley said in an email. "I remember thinking how grateful I was that my grandchildren were not spending the night, and that those bullets did not go through my house."

Lopez, who has been a state senator since 1997, said three of the bullets shot at her home passed through her 10-year-old daughter's bedroom.

"I am asking the public to provide any information they may have that will assist the police in bringing about the arrest of the perpetrators," Lopez said in a statement.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller called the shootings disturbing. He said they are serious crimes regardless of whether anyone was hurt.

Republican leaders in the New Mexico Senate said in a statement that they are "incredibly grateful" their colleagues were unharmed and they called for the arrest and prosecution of those responsible.

Federal officials have warned about the potential for violence and attacks on government officials and buildings, and the Department of Homeland Security has said domestic extremism remains a top terrorism threat in the U.S.

In October, an assailant looking for then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi broke into her San Francisco home and used a hammer to attack her husband, Paul, who suffered blunt-force injuries and was hospitalized. Rioters who swarmed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and halted the certification of President Joe Biden's electoral victory roamed the halls and shouted menacingly, demanding "Where's Nancy?"

Members of a paramilitary group were convicted of plotting to kidnap Michigan's governor. And in August, a gunman opened fire on an FBI office in Ohio after posting online that federal agents should be killed "on sight" after the FBI searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago home.

Across the U.S., election workers have been harassed and hounded, sending some into hiding. There have also been threats to judges, school board officials and armed protests at state capitols around the nation.

In June, a man who was arrested outside Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's home in Maryland said he was there to kill the justice after a leaked court opinion suggested the court was likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, went into hiding for several weeks in December 2020 and January 2021 in response to online threats. Last year, she notified the FBI of new threats to her safety via an email and telephone calls to her offices.

In 2020, Democratic New Mexico state Sen. Jacob Candelaria fled home after receiving anonymous threatening telephone messages following his criticism of a protest outside the state Capitol against COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

The Democratic Party has consolidated control over every statewide elected office, the state Supreme Court and congressional delegation, and holds commanding majorities in the state House and Senate. Republicans still dominate local politics across vast rural swaths of the state and some urban areas.

Lopez, whose home was hit by bullets, was a lead sponsor of 2021 legislation that reversed New Mexico's ban on most abortion procedures after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year.

Maestas, an attorney and former public prosecutor, has been active on a wide range of legislation: He co-sponsored an unsuccessful initiative last year that would set new criminal penalties for those who threaten state and local judges and for those who publicly share officials' personal information, such as home addresses.

The bill came in response to 15 documented threats against judges and courthouses in 2021 alone, as well as a barrage of threats that shut down the Taos County courthouse in 2018 amid judicial proceedings involving the mysterious death of a child at a remote family compound. A judge retired following those threats.
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Lee reported from Santa Fe. Associated Press reporters Terry Tang in Phoenix and Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston contributed to this report.

Ex-deputy who used stun gun on Española teen gets 30 days - Associated Press 

A former New Mexico sheriff's deputy who used a stun gun on a teen with special needs will go to prison for 30 days.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Jeremy Barnes was sentenced Thursday for one count of false imprisonment. Once he is released, he will serve 17 months of supervised probation.

The sentencing was part of a plea deal with the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, which included the condition that Barnes never work in law enforcement again. He will also give up any law enforcement certifications.

The former Rio Arriba County Sheriff's deputy was initially also charged with child abuse, aggravated battery and violation of ethical principles of public service.

In May 2019, a widely circulated video showed Barnes using a stun gun on a 15-year-old boy several times at Española Valley High School. He was later fired.

Then Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office brought the charges, said there was no excuse for Barnes to deploy the stun gun.

The teen later settled a lawsuit with Rio Arriba County and the Española school district for $1.3 million.

Do you have a right to a clean environment? 2023 legislation would call on NM voters to decide. - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico 

One of the first pieces of legislation prefiled in 2023 aims to give New Mexico voters an opportunity to add a clean and healthy environment to the state’s Bill of Rights.

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Albuquerque) is sponsoring a resolution that could secure the legal right to clean air, soil and water for New Mexicans if they approve a change to the state’s constitution.

This measure would make New Mexicans “entitled” to environmental rights, adding an upgrade to 1971 language still in effect that describes a healthy environment only as “important.” Sedillo Lopez said there would be less wiggle room for officials to interpret this new text.

If lawmakers give the OK during the next legislative session, the measure would send a question to voters in the next election. It would be the first amendment in state history to give explicit rights to clean outdoor spaces if it passed.

“This isn’t a guaranteed right to individuals,” Sedillo Lopez said. “This will now be an official constitutional policy of the state. So everyone who swears an oath to the constitution will be swearing to guarantee people clean air, land and water.”

The state’s constitution does offer some protection against pollution in a section that gives the Legislature the authority to regulate air, water and other natural resources while making sure their use is “for the maximum benefit of the people.”

The New Mexico Constitution declares a healthy environment a “fundamental importance to the public interest, health, safety and the general welfare.”

The newer environmental rights legislation has failed to get through the Roundhouse a few times before. The state’s Bill of Rights was last amended in 2016, when New Mexico voters approved a bail reform measure that gives people arrested for crimes the right to not be detained just because they cannot pay a bond.

Sedillo Lopez said if the right to a clean environment is important enough for voters to put it under the Bill of Rights, it could inspire questions about why state environmental agencies aren’t adequately funded or staffed, potentially making way for other legislation or funding.

Maya van Rossum is the founder of Green Amendments for the Generations, an activist group trying to get environmental rights resolutions included in state constitutions across the nation. She said a bill like this would become as fundamental as the freedom of speech or right to bear arms if passed.

“It becomes the principal, the guiding light, the legal guidance that’s needed to implement everything else that’s happening in the state when it comes to the environment — legislation, regulation, programs,” she said.

So far, Pennsylvania, Montana and New York have similar legally binding environmental rights in their books. Sedillo Lopez said about 15 other states are introducing concepts along these lines as well.

New Mexico’s Bill of Rights mirrors the federal version with language protecting citizens’ rights to bear arms, vote and freedom of speech.

There is no section that explicitly protects environmental rights.

The proposal from Sedillo Lopez includes language that these rights are equitable for everyone, regardless of race, gender, tribal membership, geography or socioeconomic status.

“I think that’s really important because so many of our communities have disproportionately borne the burdens of pollution in our state,” Sedillo Lopez said.

Local environmental advocacy groups have voiced support for this resolution.

“All New Mexicans depend so much on a clean and healthy environment — not just for their water, for their air, for their health, but for economic development, for eco-tourism,” van Rossum said. “So this is going to help lift all of that up.”

3 homes, 1 office of Albuquerque politicians hit by gunfire - Associated Press

The homes or offices of four elected officials in the Albuquerque area have been damaged by gunshots in a 30-day span, police said Thursday.

Nobody was injured in the shootings and police are trying to determine if the incidents were related. All four politicians are Democrats.

Evidence has been collected from all of the scenes and federal authorities are helping with the investigation, which Police Chief Harold Medina called a top priority.

According to police, someone shot eight rounds at the southeast Albuquerque home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa on Dec. 4.

Seven days later, police said more than a dozen gunshot impacts were identified on walls at the house of then-Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O'Malley in Albuquerque's North Valley.

At least eight shots were fired at the exterior of the southwest Albuquerque home of New Mexico Sen. Linda Lopez after midnight Tuesday, according to police.

Authorities also said the office of state Sen. Moe Maestas was struck by gunfire Thursday morning.

"It is traumatizing to have several bullets shot directly through my front door when my family and I were getting ready to celebrate Christmas," Barboa, who has been a county commissioner since January 2021, told Albuquerque TV station KRQE. "No one deserves threatening and dangerous attacks like this."

O'Malley, who left her position as commissioner after serving a maximum of two terms, said in an email that she and her husband were asleep before the gunfire struck the adobe wall surrounding their home.

"To say I am angry about this attack on my home—on my family, is the least of it," O'Malley said in an email. "I remember thinking how grateful I was that my grandchildren were not spending the night, and that those bullets did not go through my house."

Lopez, who has been a state senator since 1997, said three of the bullets shot at her home passed through her 10-year-old daughter's bedroom.

"I am asking the public to provide any information they may have that will assist the police in bringing about the arrest of the perpetrators," Lopez said in a statement.

Details of the damage done to Maestas' office wasn't immediately available Thursday.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller called the shootings disturbing and said they are serious crimes regardless of whether anyone was injured.

Regulators focus on future of New Mexico horse racing - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico horse racing regulators, track executives, breeders and others say there's no silver bullet to ensure the future of the industry as it faces increased competition from online wagering, higher costs, infighting and other problems.

Like other states, New Mexico has seen its multimillion-dollar industry contract over recent years. In hopes of stemming the decline, the New Mexico Racing Commission hosted a special meeting Thursday in Albuquerque to discuss the industry's strengths, weaknesses and possible solutions.

The long list included everything from a marketing campaign to educate fans, incentives for breeding and racing horses in the state, stronger penalties for doping violations and tighter enforcement of testing procedures as ways to improve perceptions about the sport's integrity.

While the industry's stakeholders are often on different sides, many agreed during the hourslong meeting that multiple factors have combined to stifle the industry nationwide and that there's no simple solution.

Commissioner David "Hossie" Sanchez, the owner of a horse breeding and racing operation near Albuquerque, told those in the packed room and watching online that everyone needed to take off their blinders and consider all the issues, not just those facing them as individual players in the industry.

"That's the only way this thing is going to work. We have to see other people's problems and see where they're coming from," he said.

The commission, whose members are appointed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, has been mired in litigation in recent years over disagreements about the distribution of purse money and other concerns. Some of the claims filed by the New Mexico Horsemen's Association are still pending in court.

Gary Mitchell, an attorney representing the horse owners group, expressed disappointment with Thursday's meeting. He said it appeared the commission had only the track owners' interests in mind and that tracks and breeders were looking to get a larger share of the gaming purse money.

Mitchell said the commission's decisions ultimately end up affecting thousands of horse owners, many from rural areas of the state, who are the backbone of the industry. Many of them, he said, run their horses in lower level races and are looking to make enough money to pay for feed and cover training costs.

"And these are not wealthy New Mexicans. These are classic New Mexicans — born and raised in New Mexico, native to New Mexico, who have deep roots in agriculture and in the cultures they were raised in," he said. "How about our culture? How about us?"

Some horse owners also have advocated for more transparency in the form of weekly purse money and gaming reports to be posted online by the state's licensed tracks and their associated casinos.

The commission read a statement at the start of the meeting in which it acknowledged the passion that each group brings to the industry and its economic impact.

"Despite that everyone here has different perspectives and responsibilities, we all share the common and important goal of cultivating the state's horse racing industry for the benefit of the public who enjoys it and the persons and families who work in it for their livelihoods," the commission stated.

Track owners and horse breeders told state lawmakers last fall that the industry has seen its economic effects — like spending on feed, fuel and labor — dwindle by nearly 25% over recent years. They have said the decline of the industry has been more precipitous in New Mexico than elsewhere, with the number of races and the number of horses being bred also dropping.

It's likely the tracks and other advocates will lobby for easing some rules around online betting during the upcoming legislative session, but lawmakers will have to tread carefully to ensure nothing compromises the revenue sharing agreements New Mexico has with Native American tribes that operate casinos.

Body armor shields Border Patrol agent struck by gunfire - Associated Press

A Border Patrol agent wearing body armor was struck by gunfire but avoided serious injury Thursday while confronting the occupants of a vehicle suspected of migrant smuggling in New Mexico, federal authorities said.

Six people were taken into custody after the vehicle later crashed, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. The agency added that the agent was shot in the chest multiple times and was released after a medical examination.

The officer, who was not identified, had returned fire as a vehicle sped away on a rural state highway north of Hatchita.

"The fleeing vehicle was involved in a rolled over accident a few miles down the road and agents took six persons into custody," according to the statement.

It said two of those in custody were flown to a trauma center in El Paso, Texas, for treatment. Their conditions and identities were not immediately released.

New Mexico State Police officers were assisting in an investigation, which also involved the FBI, according to State Police Lt. Mark Soriano.

Immigration and border enforcement have come under increasd scrutiny in recent weeks. On Thursday, Joe Biden disclosed he would make his first visit as president to the U.S. border with Mexico at El Paso. He said details were being worked out for a visit in connection with his meeting next week in Mexico City with leaders of Mexico and Canada.

Biden also announced Thursday that the U.S. would immediately begin turning away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross the border from Mexico illegally, expand on an existing effort to stop Venezuelans attempting to enter the U.S.

Biden toughens border, offers legal path for 30,000 a month - By Colleen Long, Zeke Miller And Elliot Spagat Associated Press

President Joe Biden said Thursday the U.S. would immediately begin turning away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross the border from Mexico illegally, his boldest move yet to confront the arrivals of migrants that have spiraled since he took office two years ago.

The new rules expand on an existing effort to stop Venezuelans attempting to enter the U.S., which began in October and led to a dramatic drop in Venezuelans coming to the southern border. Together, they represent a major change to immigration rules that will stand even if the Supreme Court ends a Trump-era public health law that allows U.S. authorities to turn away asylum-seekers.

"Do not, do not just show up at the border," Biden said as he announced the changes, even as he acknowledged the hardships that lead many families to make the dangerous journey north.

"Stay where you are and apply legally from there," he advised.

Biden made the announcement just days before a planned visit to El Paso, Texas, on Sunday for his first trip to the southern border as president. From there, he will travel on to Mexico City to meet with North American leaders on Monday and Tuesday.

The first night under the new restrictions got off to an eerily quiet start in Yuma, Arizona, where hundreds of migrants usually cross like clockwork daily between midnight and sunrise, including many Cubans. By 2 a.m. local time Friday, no one had crossed in a popular spot for people to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents.

A large Border Patrol bus with caged windows, the kind typically used to transport prisoners, sat idle with its motor running along with several white Border Patrol vans on a dirt road where the border wall ends. There was no one under a large white canopy that was erected months ago to shield migrants from the sun as they wait to be driven to a Border Patrol station.

An agent said the low turnout could be a result of the previous day's announcement but also noted the river was high. He suggested waiting until 5 a.m. Migrants tend to arrive in groups ranging between 200 and 300 people, he said.

Homeland Security officials said they would begin denying asylum to those who circumvent legal pathways and do not first ask for asylum in the country they traveled through en route to the U.S.

Instead, the U.S. will accept 30,000 people per month from the four nations for two years and offer the ability to work legally, as long as they come legally, have eligible sponsors and pass vetting and background checks. Border crossings by migrants from those four nations have risen most sharply, with no easy way to quickly return them to their home countries.

"This new process is orderly," Biden said. "It's safe and humane, and it works."

The move, while not unexpected, drew swift criticism from asylum and immigration advocates, who have had a rocky relationship with the president.

"President Biden correctly recognized today that seeking asylum is a legal right and spoke sympathetically about people fleeing persecution," said Jonathan Blazer, the American Civil Liberties Union's director of border strategies. "But the plan he announced further ties his administration to the poisonous anti-immigrant policies of the Trump era instead of restoring fair access to asylum protections."

Even with the health law restrictions in place, the president has seen the numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border rise dramatically during his two years in office; there were more than 2.38 million stops during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the first time the number topped 2 million. The administration has struggled to clamp down on crossings, reluctant to take hard-line measures that would resemble those of the Trump administration.

That's resulted in relentless criticism from Republicans who say the Democratic president is ineffective on border security, and the newly minted Republican House majority has promised congressional investigations on the matter.

The new policy could result in 360,000 people from these four nations lawfully entering the U.S. in a year, a huge number. But far more people from those countries have been attempting to cross into the U.S. on foot, by boat or swimming; migrants from those four countries were stopped 82,286 times in November alone.

Enyer Valbuena, a Venezuelan who was living in Tijuana, Mexico, after crossing the border illegally, said Thursday's announcement came as no surprise but a blow nonetheless.

"This was coming. It's getting more difficult all the time," he said by text message.

Some Venezuelans waiting on Mexico's border with the U.S. have been talking among themselves if Canada is an option, Valbuena said. He had been waiting for the outcome of the pandemic-related asylum ban before trying to enter the U.S. again and is seeking asylum in Mexico, which offers a much better future than Venezuela.

"If it becomes more difficult (to reach the U.S.), the best path is to get papers in Mexico," said Valbuena, who currently works at a Tijuana factory.

Mexico has agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants each month from the four countries who attempt to walk or swim across the U.S.-Mexico border and are turned back. Normally, these migrants would be returned to their country of origin, but the U.S. can not easily send back people from those four countries for a variety of reasons that include relations with the governments there.

Anyone coming to the U.S. is allowed to claim asylum, regardless of how they crossed the border, and migrants seeking a better life in the U.S. often pay smugglers the equivalent of thousands of dollars to deliver them across the dangerous Darien Gap.

But the requirements for granting asylum are narrow, and only about 30% of applications are granted. That has created a system in which migrants try to cross between ports of entry and are allowed into the U.S. to wait out their cases. But there is a 2 million-case immigration court backlog, so cases often are not heard for years.

The only lasting way to change the system is through Congress, but a bipartisan congressional effort on new immigration laws failed shortly before Republicans took the House majority.

"The actions we're announcing will make things better, but will not fix the border problem completely," Biden said, in pressing lawmakers to act.

Under then-President Donald Trump, the U.S. required asylum seekers to wait across the border in Mexico. But clogs in the immigration system created long delays, leading to fetid, dangerous camps over the border where migrants were forced to wait. That system was ended under Biden, and the migrants who are returned to Mexico under the new rules will not be eligible for asylum.

Biden will also triple the number of refugees accepted to the U.S. from the Western Hemisphere, to 20,000 from Latin America and Caribbean, over the next two years. Refugees and asylum-seekers have to meet the same criteria to be allowed into the country, but they arrive through different means.

Border officials are also creating an online appointment portal to help reduce wait times at U.S. ports of entry for those coming legally. It will allow people to set up an appointment to come and ask to be allowed into the country.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, migrants have been denied a chance to seek asylum 2.5 million times since March 2020 under the Title 42 restrictions, introduced as an emergency health measure by Trump to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But there always has been criticism that the restrictions were used as a pretext by the Republican to seal off the border.

Biden moved to end the Title 42 restrictions, and Republicans sued to keep them. The U.S. Supreme Court has kept the rules in place for now. White House officials say they still believe the restrictions should end, but they maintain they can continue to turn away migrants under immigration law.

The four nationalities that Biden addressed Thursday now make up the majority of those crossing the border illegally. Cubans, who are leaving the island nation in their largest numbers in six decades, were stopped 34,675 times at the U.S. border with Mexico in November, up 21% from October. Nicaraguans, a large reason why El Paso has become the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, were stopped 34,209 times in November, up 65% from October.

But Venezuelans were seen far less at the border after Mexico agreed on Oct. 12 to begin accepting those expelled from the United States. They were stopped 7,931 times, down 64% from October.

Venezuelans have said the changes have been difficult, particularly with finding a sponsor who has the financial resources to demonstrate the ability to support them. And even if they find a sponsor, sometimes they delay their arrival because they don't have the economic resources to pay for the flight to the U.S. For some, the Venezuelan passport that they need has expired, and they cannot afford to pay for the renewal.

Biden signs water bills benefiting 3 tribes in Arizona - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

President Joe Biden has approved three bills that will improve access to water for three tribes in Arizona amid an unrelenting drought.

One of the measures that Biden signed Thursday settles long standing water rights claims for the Hualapai Tribe, whose reservation borders a 100-mile stretch of the Colorado River as it runs through the Grand Canyon. Hualapai will have the right to divert up to 3,414 acre-feet of water per year, along with the ability to lease it within Arizona.

One acre-foot is enough to supply two to three average households per year.

Another of the bills gives the Colorado River Indian Tribes based in Parker the ability to lease water from the Colorado River. The tribe has one of the oldest, largest and most secure allocations of water in the entire river basin that stretches into seven states in the U.S. West.

The tribe can lease only a portion of its Arizona allocation within the state. It also has Colorado River water rights in California.

The third bill amends a 2010 water rights settlement for the White Mountain Apache Tribe in eastern Arizona, authorizing additional funding and extending deadlines to complete a rural water system and dam.

Congress approved the bills late last year.