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WED:Aspiring social workers expected to work for free, MVD reissues 100,000 licenses, + More

Students at New Mexico Highlands University have been advocating for legislative changes by creating a local chapter of a national organization called Payment 4 Placements.
Photo courtesy of Payment 4 Placements NM
Students at New Mexico Highlands University have been advocating for legislative changes by creating a local chapter of a national organization called Payment 4 Placements.

New Mexico lifts debt-based suspensions of driver's licenses for 100,000 residents — Associated Press

New Mexico's motor vehicle division has lifted the suspension of driver's licenses for more than 100,000 residents under new anti-poverty legislation, officials announced Wednesday.

Bipartisan legislation signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March called for an end to the widespread practice of suspending driver's licenses for failure to pay a fine or failure to appear in court.

At least 23 other states have taken similar steps to end debt-based suspensions of driver's licenses that can make it harder for individuals to pay off debts and care for their families.

The New Mexico law does not apply to commercial driver's licenses nor suspensions for other reasons related to dangerous driving or accumulated traffic violations.

License suspensions also have been cleared for more than 160,000 out-of-state drivers with New Mexico citations, the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department said in a news release. New Mexico will notify other states.

The changes leave underlying citations and fines on drivers' records. There is no fee under the new law to reinstate a driver's license after a suspension is lifted, though payments may be required for licenses that expired while under suspension.

Sponsors of the law, including Republican state Sen. Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte and Democratic state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos, say debt-based license suspensions are counterproductive.

To become social workers, students in NM expected to work for free - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

College students in New Mexico studying to become licensed social workers are required to conduct hundreds of hours of field work in places like schools, prisons, hospitals and clinics.

That requirement is often unpaid labor.

For the estimated 1,500 students enrolled in social work programs at universities across New Mexico, that volunteer time cuts into their mental well-being, family responsibilities and the wages they need to pay for things like rent or tuition. It also delays the work they could do to begin servicing community needs across the state.

In interviews and testimony to lawmakers earlier this month, social work students and their instructors said paid field placements would go a long way to making social work education less of a sacrifice and financial hardship.

“I felt like I either had to choose between not working my general assistantship, which is my part-time job, and not working my practicum,” New Mexico Highlands University student Amber Vilas said.

In February, Vilas and other students conducted a survey at Highland’s Facundo Valdez School of Social Work and learned that most students at the school have never received any pay for their field placements. The survey found only 13% had received any stipend at all.

Vilas, who is in a master’s program at Highlands, heard students from other social work schools across the country speak in November 2022 at a virtual conference, and started talking to students at her school. Together, they decided to start a chapter of Payment 4 Placements to advocate for legislative changes.

She and other social work students in the group are trying to question why the unpaid placements are the standard, she said.

The only accrediting agency for social work education in the U.S. requires a minimum of 400 field placement hours for bachelor’s students, and a minimum of 900 for master’s students. Vilas and her cohort say financial support is necessary to meet these requirements and also help their overall well-being.

Almost every one of the students surveyed at Highlands said they had to sacrifice other priorities for their field hours, including self-care, family time, study time, and paid work.

“If there is a social work crisis now, it’s going to take time for students to get through school and be able to be licensed and serving in their communities, so this is the support that they need now,” Vilas said.

More than 94% of those surveyed who did get a stipend reported positive impacts on their mental health including being able to focus more on their studies, easing their financial stress, making them feel their hard work is recognized and providing a feeling of security.

Vilas understands this firsthand, and sees reform is needed even if a student does get the rare paid field work position. She was paid in her first practicum through the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

But even the paid field practicums do not pay enough, Vilas said.

For example, Vilas said CYFD offers a stipend which pays the student’s tuition first. Any leftover money is not a regular paycheck and comes at the end of the school year, Vilas said.


Students pursuing a master’s in social work are not eligible for state scholarships through the lottery and opportunity scholarships, Barnstone said.

They also aren’t eligible for Federal Pell Grants, Barnstone said. They are only eligible to take out loans to pay for their education, she said.

“Assistance with tuition and expanded loan forgiveness for our master’s students will make pursuing that degree more affordable in our state,” Barnstone said.

Students pursuing both master’s and bachelor’s degree programs for social work would benefit from scholarships to cover the costs of daycare, travel, health care, food, housing, utilities, Internet or phone, she said.

Vilas’ second and third practicums were unpaid. She’s doing her third one this summer in part because she found it difficult to balance everything she needed to during the spring semester.


Maddie Carrell is a graduate assistant at the Social Work Educational Enhancement Project.

She will start her second field placement this fall doing group therapy for Spanish-speaking students in New Mexico, based out of Gerard’s House, a grief resource center in Santa Fe.

She’ll be doing the placement only part-time because she can’t afford to go to school and not make a wage to pay tuition.

Bachelor’s students must complete one full-year internship, while master’s students must complete two different ones depending on their degree track.

Every hour a student spends in field placement is an hour not spent earning income, said Judy Barnstone, interim dean and associate professor at Highland’s Facundo Valdez.

It’s the equivalent of roughly two months of unpaid labor, Carrell said.

Most students in social work in New Mexico average in age around 35 years, Barnstone said, which can limit their capacity to focus on — much less afford — their schoolwork.

Caring for their school-aged children and older dependent family members also limits their ability to complete their courses, Barnstone said.

The limited availability and high costs of everyday needs like health care, housing, and childcare make it difficult to progress in their courses, she said.

Each field placement requires 16 to 20 hours of work per week, in addition to the time they spend in class, reading and doing coursework.

Lanette Valdez, who works full-time as a behavioral health responder with the Albuquerque Community Safety Department, is finishing her first field placement as part of her studies this week.

Valdez said she has met many people who stopped trying to do social work because they couldn’t afford to take on a field placement.

The lack of available time to spend at work also sometimes makes it harder for social work students to meet their most basic needs, Barnstone said.

“We have students who delay or stop their progress through their programs because they are caring for family members suffering poor health,” Barnstone said.

Others are food-insecure, or have trouble finding housing, especially as landlords have raised rents, Barnstone said.

Social workers are experiencing high rates of burnout, Carrell said, which exacerbates the existing severely unmet needs of the people they help.

“Investment in social work and paid practicums would support the whole state,” she said.

If a social worker doesn’t have the time or space in order to do self-care, then it becomes difficult to show up for the people they’re trying to help, Vilas said.

“A lot of the people who I have known in the social work field have decided to do it because they grew up in certain areas that were underfunded, underserved,” Valdez said. “We want people who have some kind of experience in this area to be able to relate to people.”


The Legislature in the 2023 session set aside $20 million for school endowments meant for social work educational programs in the state.

The money, overseen by the state Higher Education Department (HED), is meant to pay for scholarships, field practicum stipends, and stipends for supervisors at government agencies who are tasked with training students or recent graduates in field placements, Barnstone said.

“While we’re all eagerly awaiting more information from HED on what this resource will look like, we’re quite certain it will not fully meet the needs of the 1,500 students who are currently in our state training to become social workers,” Barnstone told the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee on July 10.

They could look like general stipends open to all students, Barnstone said, or available only to students with fewer resources.

They could also include stipends in exchange for a work commitment, Barnstone said. CYFD already does something like this, she said, but it could be expanded to other local or state agencies.

Albuquerque police seek tips in hit-and-run that killed cyclist KUNM News

Police are asking the public for help solving a hit-and-run involving a cyclist who later died.

Just after midnight, early Saturday morning, Rosanna Breuninger was hit near 12th and Los Arboles NW. But a white and silver sedan picked her up and drove her to her home nearby, according to an announcement from Crime Stoppers.

Breuninger was found dead in her home the next day when she didn’t show up for work. Her house and clothes had blood covering several areas, and her phone and personal items were all missing.

It’s not clear if the sedan is the same vehicle that hit her, but police want to speak to the driver, and are offering a reward of $2,500 for information that helps solve the case.

Anyone with information can contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at (505) 843-STOP.

Poetry academy announces more than $1 million in grants for US laureates - Associated Press

A digital poetry archive in Utah, slam poetry workshops in South Carolina and creative writing programs in New Mexico are among the initiatives being supported by more than $1 million in grants from the Academy of American Poets.

On Tuesday, the academy announced its 2023 Fellowships, contributions of $50,000 each to 23 state and local poets laureate around the country, from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Redmond, Washington.

The Poet Laureate Fellowship program, launched in 2019, are funded in part by the Mellon Foundation.

"Collectively the voice and vision of these 23 poets laureate will bring together community members through the craft and creativity of poetry and illuminate place through words," poet Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation, said in a statement.

Fellows include Utah laureate Lisa Bickmore and Lauren Camp of New Mexico, along with such local laureates as Diannely Antigua of Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Laura Da' of Redmond, Washington; Jennifer Bartell Boykin of Columbia, South Carolina; and Yalie Saweda Kamara of Cincinnati.

"The Academy of American Poets celebrates the unique position poets laureate occupy at state and local levels, elevating the possibilities poetry can bring to community conversations and reminding us that our national spirit can be nourished by the power of the written and spoken word," Ricardo Maldonado, president and executive director of the poetry academy, said in a statement.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Kamara's middle name. It's Saweda, not Sawede.

Albuquerque mayor says United soccer stadium could get underway this winter – Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller told a commercial real estate association Tuesday the city hopes to begin construction on a stadium for the New Mexico United soccer team this winter.

The Albuquerque Journal reports he said the facility would be privately funded with the exception of a recent state grant of $8.5 million for a stadium infrastructure investment and an additional $5 million in capital outlay.

Albuquerque voters defeated a proposal to use public money for a stadium in the South Broadway or Barelas neighborhoods two years ago.

Keller said this is “not a done deal” but the new site would be nestled in a corner of Balloon Fiesta Park. He added that permitting and planning are underway along with raising private investment.

Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo reaches key milestone in water rights dispute KUNM News, NM Political Report

After more than 50 years of litigation, the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo is ready to settle a water rights case surrounding the Rio Chama.

Nat Chakeres, general counsel for the State Engineer said the agreement is a bit of a compromise, that it doesn’t meet all of the Pueblo’s issues, but it does settle their claims for the Rio Chama, according to The New Mexico Political Report.

The remainder of the Pueblo’s concerns, he said, will be regarding the Rio Grande.

The agreement calls for almost $950 million dollars in total, $131 million in state funding and $818 Million from the federal government, as well as adding two new state employee positions.

All the funding is subject to both state and federal jurisdiction, which will have to approve any spending.

The Ohkay Owingeh have the longest and largest water rights holdings on the Rio Chama. However, it often doesn’t get adequate water supplies because it’s near the bottom of the river system.

Putting a floating barrier in the Rio Grande to stop migrants is new. The idea isn't. - By Paul J. Weber Associated Press

In the final months of the Trump administration, a new plan to seal off the United States' southern border started gaining steam: a floating water barrier to discourage migrants from trying to cross from Mexico.

The idea never materialized. But three years later, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has put it into action.

The state installed a floating barrier of bright orange, wrecking ball-sized buoys on the Rio Grande this month, stretching roughly the length of three soccer fields.

It is an untested strategy of deterring migrants along the U.S. border that is already fortified in wide sections by high steel fencing and razor wire. The rollout of the buoys on the Rio Grande has thrust Texas into a new standoff with the Biden administration over immigration on the state's 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) border with Mexico.

The Justice Department has asked a federal court to order Texas to remove the buoys, saying the water barrier poses humanitarian and environmental concerns along the international boundary. Abbott has waved off the lawsuit as he is cheered on by conservative allies who are eager for cases that would empower states to take on more aggressive immigration measures.

That legal battle comes as President Joe Biden's administration defends a new asylum rule in court. A federal judge Tuesday blocked the policy that the administration sees as a way of controlling the southern border while maintaining avenues for migrants to pursue valid asylum claims. The judge's order won't take effect for at least two weeks.

Here's what to know about the river barrier:

'The Water Wall'

Like other pieces of Abbott's multibillion-dollar border mission known as Operation Lone Star, the buoys pick up where former President Donald Trump left off.

In 2020, Mark Morgan was the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he approved plans to deploy the same water barrier on the Rio Grande that Texas is now using.

That August, the Army Corps of Engineers posted a solicitation for a "buoy barrier system" that would "mitigate the ability of swimmers to climb" over or under it.

Morgan called it the "water wall."

"It was really designed to be a stopgap to utilize in high-flow areas where we didn't have a physical structure in place," Morgan said.

Spokespersons for CBP did not immediately address questions Tuesday about the 2020 plans. The federal International Boundary and Water Commission, whose jurisdiction includes boundary demarcation and overseeing U.S.-Mexico treaties, said it didn't get a heads-up from Texas about the state's floating barrier.

Experts have raised concerns of the buoys changing the river's flow or of objects getting caught in them. Morgan, who is now a visiting fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said environmental reviews under Trump raised issues with the barrier but said he could not recall specifics.

"Just like the physical wall itself, right, there are a variety of things you can do to accommodate that," he said.

'Flouted Federal Law'

It is unclear how quickly a federal judge in Texas will rule on the Biden administration's lawsuit.

Until then, roughly 1,000-foot (305-meter) of barrier will remain on a potion of the Rio Grande that separates Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Mexico. The Mexican government has also raised concerns about the barrier, saying it may violate 1944 and 1970 treaties on boundaries and water.

The Biden administration's lawsuit accuses Texas of violating the federal Rivers and Harbor Act. Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general, said Texas "flouted federal law" and risks damaging U.S. foreign policy.

The buoys are the latest escalation in Texas' border mission that also includes National Guard patrols, jails that house migrants arrested on trespassing charges and busloads of asylum-seekers sent to Democratic-led cities across the U.S.

'See You in Court, Mr. President'

Abbott has tried to position America's biggest red state as the foremost antagonist to the Biden administration's border policies. Last year, Abbott easily won a third term in a campaign that focused on border policies.

In a letter to Biden this week, Abbott said the state was acting within its rights to protects its borders

"Texas will see you in court, Mr. President," he wrote.

He said it was the Biden administration that was putting putting migrants at risk by not doing more to dissuade them from making the journey to the U.S.

A judge blocks limits on asylum at US-Mexico border but gives Biden administration time to appeal - By Rebecca Santana Associated Press

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked a rule that allows immigration authorities to deny asylum to migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border without first applying online or seeking protection in a country they passed through. But the judge delayed his ruling from taking effect immediately to give President Joe Biden's administration time to appeal.

The order from U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar of the Northern District of California takes away a key enforcement tool set in place by the Biden administration as coronavirus-based restrictions on asylum expired in May. The new rule imposes severe limitations on migrants seeking asylum but includes room for exceptions and does not apply to children traveling alone.

"The Rule — which has been in effect for two months — cannot remain in place," Tigar wrote in an order that will not take effect for two weeks.

The Justice Department immediately appealed the order and asked for it to be put on hold while the case is heard. The agency said it's confident the rule is lawful.

Immigrant rights groups that sued over the rule applauded the judge's decision.

"The promise of America is to serve as a beacon of freedom and hope, and the administration can and should do better to fulfill this promise, rather than perpetuate cruel and ineffective policies that betray it," American Civil Liberties Union attorney Katrina Eiland, who argued the case, said in a statement.

The ACLU and other groups had argued the rule violates a U.S. law that protects the right to asylum regardless of how a person enters the country. The groups said it forces migrants to seek protection in countries that don't have the same robust asylum system and human rights protections as the United States. They also argued that the CBP One app the government wants migrants to use doesn't have enough appointments and isn't available in enough languages.

The administration had argued that protection systems in other countries that migrants travel through have improved. But Tigar said it's not feasible for some migrants to seek protection in a transit country and noted the violence that many face in Mexico in particular.

"While they wait for an adjudication, applicants for asylum must remain in Mexico, where migrants are generally at heightened risk of violence by both state and non-state actors," the judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama, wrote.

He also wrote that the rule is illegal because it presumes that people are ineligible for asylum if they enter the country between legal border crossings. But, Tigar wrote, Congress expressly said that should not affect whether someone is eligible for asylum.

The judge also rejected the administration's arguments that it had provided other avenues for people to come to the U.S. and that should be taken into account. The administration has pointed to a program that allows in as many as 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela if they have a sponsor and fly into the U.S. The judge noted that such pathways are not available to all migrants.

The Biden administration also argued that it was allowing potentially hundreds of thousands of people into the U.S. through the CBP One app. Migrants use the app to schedule an appointment to present themselves at the border to seek entry to the U.S. and request asylum.

Tigar noted that demand outstrips the 1,450 appointments currently available daily, leaving asylum seekers waiting in Mexico where they're at "serious risk of violence."

The Biden administration said the asylum rule was a key part of its strategy to strike a balance between strict border enforcement and ensuring several avenues for migrants to pursue valid asylum claims. According to Customs and Border Protection, total encounters along the southern border — meaning migrants who either came to one of the ports of entry or tried to cross between them — were down 30% in June compared with the previous month. The agency said it was the lowest monthly total since February 2021.

Critics have argued that the rule is essentially a newer version of efforts by President Donald Trump to limit asylum at the southern border.

Trump derided Tigar as an "Obama judge" after Tigar rejected a Trump administration policy barring people from applying for asylum except at an official border entry point. That effort got caught up in litigation and never took effect.

Tigar also ruled against the Trump administration's efforts to limit asylum to people who don't apply for protection in a country they travel through before coming to the U.S. The Supreme Court eventually allowed that.