MON: CYFD gets a new permanent leader, APD closes parts of BIG I, + More
CYFD gets a new permanent leader - By Megan Myscofski, KUNM News
The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department has a new permanent leader.
Teresa Casados was appointed to the post by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham Monday after serving as interim secretary since April.
Casados will also step down as Chief Operating Officer in the Governor’s Office, a position she’s held since 2019.
CYFD has drawn scrutiny over the years from legislators who say the department is mismanaged.
Since Casados joined CYFD, the department has ended the practice of using Social Security benefits that belong to children.
APD closes parts of BIG I due to individual on ramp — By Nash Jones, KUNM News
The Albuquerque Police Department closed several routes around the BIG I Monday afternoon due to a person standing on one of the ramps. All lanes of traffic have since been reopened.
Police announced the closure of I-40 eastbound and I-25 northbound, along with University Blvd. around the interchange, around 3:30 p.m.
APD spokesperson Franchesca Perdue said in an email that the individual was transported to an area hospital after officers moved them out of the way of traffic.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
N.M. spends tens of millions more every year on prosecutors than public defenders - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
New Mexico spends tens of millions of dollars more every year on prosecutors pursuing criminal cases against people than it does on public defenders, according to records newly released by the state’s Legislature.
The statewide picture of funding for local district attorneys’ offices illustrates a longstanding disparity of resources between them and their opponents in court.
To get a sense of how much public funding goes to the agencies prosecuting criminal laws in New Mexico, Source NM reviewed the budget requests handed in this fall by all 14 local DA’s offices across the state. This was necessary because prosecutors have not yet turned in a unified, statewide budget priority document, though a cover letter on one of their appropriation requests indicated they would.
Documents show for this year’s budget, prosecutors have more than $103 million to work with.
That is 30% more than the Law Offices of the Public Defender’s annual budget, which totals $71.7 million.
Taken together, prosecutors are asking state lawmakers to increase their budgets next year by 9.5% to a total of $116 million. Public defenders, on the other hand, are asking for $86.6 million. Even if lawmakers approve both sides’ requests, prosecutors would still get 25% more money overall.
Prosecutors or their budget experts formally asked for the money during a two-and-a-half hour hearing on Thursday in Santa Fe before the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), the group of lawmakers who control the state’s budget.
Their reasons for spending more money vary widely. Some said they need to hire more victims’ advocates and investigators, others want more paralegals, and still more need new software to keep track of cases.
Prosecutors’ offices have about 334 attorneys working for them, according to their comments to lawmakers and their organizational charts, cover letters and caseload statistics included in their written requests.
That’s fewer than the 349 public defenders in the state. However, to actually handle all the cases they’re assigned, the public defender’s office said in its budget proposal it would need at least 897 public defenders, based on a workload study by the American Bar Association.
Researchers looked at how much time public defenders should spend on each case to meet the minimum standards for legal representation.
On the other side, half of the district attorneys are asking to create a total of 40 new prosecutor positions. The rest are not asking to create new positions, but many are seeking more money to be able to entice people to become prosecutors in rural parts of New Mexico.
In absolute dollar amounts, the biggest request comes from Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman, who is asking for an additional $5.5 million and 20 additional prosecutors in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city.
If lawmakers approve his request, his annual budget will grow to $38.1 million, larger than the entire budgets of some smaller towns in the state like, for example, Española ($11.9 million), Lovington ($19 million), Portales ($22 million) and Grants ($33.1 million).
“If you give me more prosecutors, it will make a difference, because it already is making a difference,” Bregman said. “You don’t turn crime on a dime. It’s not a speedboat, it’s a ship.”
The smallest request comes from 10th Judicial District Attorney Timothy Rose, who is asking for an additional $37,000 to bring his overall budget to $2.1 million. His district in eastern New Mexico includes Quay, Harding, and De Baca Counties.
Rose’s office has four prosecutors, and he isn’t asking for any more, according to his written request. He plans to use the extra money to raise the salaries for a vacant deputy district attorney job and a vacant office manager gig.
Rose asked another elected prosecutor, 13th Judicial District Attorney Barbara Romo, to present his budget on his behalf because he couldn’t attend the hearing.
“The 10th district is doing fine and currently capable of handling our business in the next fiscal year with a flat budget,” Romo said.
DISPARITY BETWEEN PROSECUTION AND DEFENSE
On Wednesday, Thomas Joseph Clear III, chair of the state’s Public Defender Commission, cautioned the LFC that the state’s criminal legal system is “a three-legged stool”: the judicial branch (judges and court staff), law enforcement (police and district attorneys), and public defense.
“They need to be funded pretty much equally,” Clear said.
Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur told LFC on Wednesday there are far too many clients for his attorneys to handle, to the point where people accused of crimes are losing out on their constitutional rights to adequate defense and due process.
For example, Baur pointed to Bregman’s decision in September to assign his attorneys to prosecute retail theft, taking over for police officers who used to handle those cases.
“Every hour that they spend is probably at least an hour that increases the public defender need, so we would have to at least be able to match whatever (full-time employees) they would add,” Baur said. “And contractors as well, because in a lot of those cases, if it’s a conspiracy case, by definition there’s more than one defendant, and so we would have to pay a contractor as well.”
Bregman and Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce told the LFC on Thursday they agree public defenders need more money.
“I want you to give as much money to the public defenders as they need, your honor — I mean, Mr. Chairman,” Bregman told Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup). “But I mean that, I really do. I think the only way our criminal justice system works is if everybody is funded appropriately, and it has to be that way. I want you to do whatever you can to help the public defender’s office.”
The judicial branch also needs to be funded, Bregman said, to allow for more preliminary hearings and more grand juries.
“We can’t do our job if we don’t have defense attorneys on the other side,” Luce said. “We know they’re short-staffed.”
“I would ask for whatever you can do to help the infrastructure overall for the courts, for the public defenders, for the labs, (the Office of the Medical Investigator), to help us get cases to trial, and get them done timely,” she said.
US wildlife managers have no immediate plans to capture wandering Mexican gray wolf - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
It's been a long journey for one lone Mexican gray wolf — from the forests of southeastern Arizona, across the dusty high desert of central New Mexico to the edge of what is known as the Yellowstone of the Southwest.
Her paws have seen hundreds of miles now over the last five months.
Having reached Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico, she has wandered far beyond the boundaries established along the Arizona-New Mexico border for managing the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. The recovery area — spanning tens of thousands of square miles — is home to more than 240 of the endangered predators.
Federal wildlife managers have confirmed to The Associated Press they have no immediate plans for capturing the lone female wolf nicknamed Asha. But they will continue tracking her movements.
Known to biologists by her formal name of F2754, the wolf is outfitted with a GPS collar. Data collected since her release in June in the Apache National Forest in Arizona shows she has traversed more than 650 miles (1,046 kilometers).
That includes about 145 miles (233 kilometers) since crossing Interstate 40 — a major cross-country thoroughfare that marks the northern boundary of the wolf recovery area.
From late October into early November, she was traveling about 13 miles (21 kilometers) a day. Then she began slowing down as she ventured into and out of the Valles Caldera preserve — an area that includes thick forests, vast meadows and some of New Mexico's most famous elk herds. It's also an area held sacred by Native American tribes in the region.
It is hunting season, and wolf recovery experts say it's likely F2754 is feeding on elk carcasses. Small game like rabbits is another possibility since she's without a pack to help her hunt.
Environmentalists have been pushing federal managers to let the wolf be, suggesting that she's heading north toward Colorado in search of a mate. They also pointed out that previous efforts to relocate her were unsuccessful following her first attempt to head northward last winter.
Nearly two dozen environmental groups sent a letter to state and federal officials Nov. 6, saying the wolf's movements are evidence that the recovery boundaries are insufficient to meet the needs of the expanding population.
Ranchers in New Mexico and Arizona who have long complained that wolves are responsible for dozens of livestock deaths every year are concerned about any expansion of the wolves' range.
It has been 25 years since Mexican gray wolves were first reintroduced into the Southwestern U.S. Despite many fits and starts, federal wildlife managers for the last seven years have seen the numbers trend upward, with last year marking the most Mexican gray wolves documented in Arizona and New Mexico since the start of the program.
The wolf recovery team also counted more breeding pairs and pups last winter than in any year since reintroductions began.
The effort to return the predators to their historic range has been the source of numerous legal challenges over the years by both environmentalists and ranching groups. The latest cases pending in federal court focus on the rules governing wolf recovery, namely the federal regulation that requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove all Mexican wolves north of Interstate 40, even in cases where the wolf causes no inconvenience or loss.
If federal officials were to eventually recapture F2754, she would be placed into captivity and paired with another wolf in the hopes that they have pups. Then the family could be released back into the wild the following spring or summer.
Until then, all eyes will be watching the pings from her GPS collar.
The flu is soaring in seven US states and rising in others, health officials say - By Mike Stobbe, AP Medical Writer
The U.S. flu season is underway, with at least seven states reporting high levels of illnesses and cases rising in other parts of the country, health officials say.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted new flu data on Friday, showing very high activity last week in Louisiana, and high activity in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and South Carolina. It was also high in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory where health officials declared an influenza epidemic earlier this month.
"We're off to the races," said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert
Traditionally, the winter flu season ramps up in December or January. But it took off in October last year, and is making a November entrance this year.
Flu activity was moderate but rising in New York City, Arkansas, California, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. And while flu activity has been high in Alaska for weeks, the state did not report data last week, so it wasn't part of the latest count.
Tracking during flu season relies in part on reports of people with flu-like symptoms who go to doctor's offices or hospitals; many people with the flu are not tested, so their infections aren't lab-confirmed. COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses can sometimes muddy the picture.
Alicia Budd, who leads the CDC's flu surveillance team, said several indicators are showing "continued increases" in flu.
There are different kinds of flu viruses, and the version that's been spreading the most so far this year usually leads to a lesser amount of hospitalizations and deaths in the elderly — the group on whom flu tends to take the largest toll.
So far this fall, the CDC estimates at least 780,000 flu illnesses, at least 8,000 hospitalizations and at least 490 flu-related deaths — including at least one child.
Budd said that it's not yet clear exactly how effective the current flu vaccines are, but the shots are well-matched to the flu strains that are showing up. In the U.S., about 35% of U.S. adults and 33% of children have been vaccinated against flu, current CDC data indicates. That's down compared to last year in both categories.
Flu vaccination rates are better than rates for the other two main respiratory viruses — COVID-19 and RSV. About 14% of adults and 5% of children have gotten the currently recommended COVID-19 shot, and about 13.5% of adults 60 and older have gotten one of the RSV shots that became available earlier this year.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Biden and López Obrador have talked fentanyl and US-Mexico migration. They pledged solidarity - By Colleen Long and Aamer Madhani, Associated Press
President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged Friday to work side-by-side to confront illicit fentanyl trafficking into the U.S. and to manage the growing number of migrants traveling north to the border between their nation.
"Nothing is beyond our reach in my view if Mexico and the United States stand together and work together," Biden said.
Biden's relationship with López Obrador has at times been tense, in part because of Biden's willingness to criticize Mexico on topics such as fentanyl production and the killing of journalists. And López Obrador isn't afraid to snub the U.S. leader. He skipped a Los Angeles summit last year where leaders tackled the issue of migration because the U.S. didn't invite Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela. He also initially said he would skip this year's APEC conference, but changed his mind.
The two men were all smiles and compliments before the press on Friday, with Biden telling López Obrador: "I couldn't have a better partner than you," and the Mexican leader calling Biden a "good man" and an "extraordinary president."
They were in San Francisco for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, where Biden has held a series of face-to-face meetings with other leaders, including China's President Xi Jinping and the leaders of Japan and South Korea, as he seeks to reassure the region that the U.S. and China are competitors, not zero-sum rivals.
Biden and Lopez Obrador set to work talking migration as the U.S. strains to manage a rising number of southern border crossings.
They also discussed deadly fentanyl trafficking, particularly after Biden secured an agreement with Xi to curb the illicit opioid. Mexico and China are the primary sources for synthetic fentanyl trafficked into the U.S. Nearly all the chemicals needed to make it come from China, and the drugs are then mass-produced in Mexico and trafficked via cartels into the U.S.
"I want to tell you about my great conversation with Xi Jinping on that issue," Biden told López Obrador.
The issues of fentanyl and immigration are related. Human smuggling over the border is a part of cartel operations that also include drug trafficking into the U.S.
"We're working side-by-side to combat organized crime," Biden said.
The powerful opioid is the deadliest drug in the U.S. today. More than 100,000 deaths a year have been linked to drug overdoses since 2020 and about two-thirds of those are related to fentanyl. The annual death toll is more than 10 times the level in 1988, at the height of the crack epidemic.
"We're aware of the damage it poses to the United states youth," López Obrador said through an interpreter.
And migration challenges facing the U.S. are growing increasingly intractable. Democratic leaders at the state and local level are begging for federal assistance to help care for migrant families living in squalid shelters and sleeping in police stations. Republicans are loudly critical of Biden's border policies as too lax. And Congress has not passed an immigration overhaul in decades.
Biden asked for $14 billion from Congress for border security but the temporary spending bill he just signed did not have funding for the border, Ukraine aid or Israel.
There are rising numbers of migrants at the border. Arrests for illegal crossings along the U.S.-Mexico line were up 21% to 218,763 in September, and Biden has repeatedly said Congress should act to fix outdated immigration laws. But in the meantime, his administration has developed policies that aim to deter migrants from making a dangerous and often deadly journey while also opening up new legal immigration pathways.
Mexico's support is critical to any push by the U.S. to clamp down at the southern border, particularly as migrants from nations as far away as Haiti are making the trek on foot up through Mexico and are not easily sent back to their home countries.
López Obrador said the administration's policies of cracking down on illegal crossings while opening up other legal pathways for others to come to the U.S. lawfully was "a humane way to address the migration phenomenon."
Earlier this year, Mexico agreed to continue to accept migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua who are turned away at the border, and up to 100,000 people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who have family in the U.S. will be eligible to live and work there.
According to data on asylum-seekers in Mexico, people from Haiti remained at the top with 18,860 so far this year, higher than the total for the whole of 2022.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is accepting 30,000 people per month from the four countries for two years and offering them the ability to work, as long as they come legally, have eligible sponsors and pass vetting and background checks.
Guatemala and Colombia will open regional hubs where people can go to make asylum claims in the hope of stopping them from traveling on foot. But Mexico has so far refused to allow the U.S. to set one up.
López Obrador also used Friday's meeting with Biden to take up the case for Cuba and urged the U.S. president to resume a dialogue with the island nation and end U.S. sanctions.
Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Democratic-led cities pay for migrants' tickets to other places as resources dwindle - By Jesse Bedayn Associated Press/Report For America
As weary migrants arrive in Denver on buses from the U.S.-Mexico border city of El Paso, Texas, officials offer them two options: temporary shelter or a bus ticket out.
Nearly half of the 27,000 migrants who arrived in Denver since November 2022 have chosen the bus, plane or train tickets to other cities in the U.S., city data shows. In New York and Illinois, taxpayer dollars also are being spent on tickets, creating a shuffle of migrants in the interior U.S. who need shelter, food and medical assistance as they await rulings on asylum cases that can take years.
The transfer of migrants has gained momentum since Republican governors in Texas and Florida started chartering buses and planes to Democratic-led cities in what critics waved off as political stunts. More than a year later, some of those cities, their resources dwindling, are eager to help migrants move on to their final destinations.
The efforts show the increased pressures cities are facing as more migrants from around the globe are coming to the U.S. southern border, often fleeing economic turmoil. Illegal border crossings topped 2 million during the government's fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the second-highest number on record.
With many migrants in shelters or living on the street, the next phase of the challenge is getting them to their families, friends or court cases, said Mario Russell, director at the Center for Migration Studies of New York.
That "has been in a sense dropped into the laps of interior cities without much preparation, without much forethought really at any level," Russell added.
Denver alone has spent at least $4.3 million in city funds to send migrants to other U.S. cities, freeing up shelter beds for new arrivals while adding to the numbers in other Democratic-led cities such as Chicago and New York that are struggling to house asylum-seekers, mostly from Venezuela.
Data wasn't yet available from New York, though the city is offering one-way plane tickets to anywhere in the world. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago has used state funds to help buy tickets for more than 2,500 migrants who have family, friends or sponsors elsewhere, according to Chief of Staff Mary Krinock.
The cities say they buy tickets only for migrants who want to travel and they do not coerce people to leave. Texas and Florida have chartered buses and planes to take migrants only to certain cities. They say people board them voluntarily.
"The people who are desperate, who are coming here for shelter and assistance, we're not going to turn those people away," Jon Ewing of Denver Human Service said. "But at the same time we have to make it very clear to them that's there's only so much we can do."
Advocates working with migrants say many come to Denver on their way to other cities because of its relative proximity to the border, reputation for being welcoming and the cheaper bus fare.
But charities are feeling the pressure as the weather turns colder and migrants end up sleeping in tent encampments.
"It breaks my heart. It is like we have so many children and little ones that we know we can't even help," said Yoli Casas, executive director of Vive Wellness, which works with new migrants to Denver.
"There's just no more room. There's no more funding. There's no nothing. We're not prepared," she said.
Denver has bought nearly 3,000 tickets to Chicago and 2,300 to New York, almost half of the more than 12,000 tickets the city has purchased for migrants since November 2022. The vast majority were bus tickets, but Denver also purchased about 340 tickets for flights and 200 for train rides.
Roughly 1,000 tickets were bound for Texas and Florida, whose governors have sent chartered buses and planes of migrants to Democratic-led "sanctuary cities" that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Russell of the Center for Migration Studies said greater communication among cities is required to ensure "people go where it's most appropriate rather than potentially going in circles and circles, from one city to the next."
"That doesn't help anybody," he added.
Tensions flared between political leaders in January when Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis chartered buses for migrants to Chicago. Then-Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and New York City Mayor Eric Adams penned a letter urging Polis to stop and saying "overburdening other cities is not the solution."
Cities including Denver, New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles recently have presented a united front, with their mayors going to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Joe Biden and ask for more assistance.
"You have mayors across the country that are struggling with this international crises and we need the federal government to do more," Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, who took office in May, told reporters this month.
Ewing gave a similar message regarding El Paso's busing of migrants to Denver, saying the two cities have been in communication.
"They were overwhelmed," Ewing said, "We certainly didn't encourage it, but we do understand it."
El Paso's mayor is a Democrat and the city's practice of chartering buses for migrants is separate from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, whose office says it has bused more than 50,000 migrants total to Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles since August 2022 to highlight Biden's border policies.
Abbott spokesperson Andrew Mahaleris said the governor is acting "to provide relief to our overwhelmed border towns."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis got attention last year by flying migrants from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. This year, state lawmakers approved $12 million in funding for Florida's migrant relocation initiative.
In Denver, the millions spent on tickets for migrants has reduced shelter costs, which reached upward of $31 million, largely from federal aid with support from the state. But the city also recently instituted shelter bed limits.
Migrants without children have two weeks in city-run shelters, while families have more than five weeks. The city also has sent flyers to border towns warning migrants that the Rocky Mountain metropolis has expensive housing and no shelter space.
In Massachusetts. Democratic Gov. Maura Healey set a threshold of 7,500 families in emergency shelters. New York City and Chicago also are limiting migrants' shelter stays.
A few Chicago City Council members want to gauge voter support for ending "sanctuary city" status with a nonbinding ballot measure in the March primary. Strong backing could help efforts to limit Chicago's decades-old sanctuary status. Among other things, city employees aren't allowed to ask about immigration status and law enforcement are barred from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
"We have other Democratic cities, Denver, California, L.A., sending their people to Chicago, New York. They're sending their migrants to Chicago. Why? Because they are saying, 'We can't take anymore.' Chicago has yet to say, 'We can't take anymore,'" Alderman Anthony Beale, who has backed the ballot measure, said at a recent council meeting. "We have to draw the line somewhere."
Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed from Chicago.
Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.