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MON: Bernalillo County’s Tiny Home Village begins accepting applications, + More

Bernalillo County's Tiny Home Village in Albuquerque's International District.
Courtesy Bernalillo County
Bernalillo County's Tiny Home Village in Albuquerque's International District.

Bernalillo County’s Tiny Home Village begins accepting applicationsBy Nash Jones, KUNM News

Bernalillo County’s Tiny Home Village in Albuquerque’s International District is accepting applications this week. The transitional housing program is open to people 18 years and up who are unhoused or “precariously housed” and able to live on their own.

The program offers temporary housing for 18-24 months along with mandatory case management intended to support residents in securing long-term housing. Case managers also offer addiction recovery and harm reduction treatment to those who need it, according to the county.

The property includes 30 tiny homes and a larger “Village house,” which is where the bathrooms, kitchen and living area are. The 120-square-foot homes include a bed, desk, shelves and a small refrigerator.
Residents aren’t allowed to use alcohol, cannabis and any illegal drugs on the property. Guns, along with harassment, threats and physical violence are also prohibited. Guests over 18 years old must be pre-approved, and cannot stay overnight. Underage guests are only allowed if pre-approved to attend an event.

Online applications opened Monday, Nov. 27, and close Sunday. Those who need help filling the form out can contact the Tiny Home Village for assistance.

If all available spaces become filled, some eligible applicants may be placed on a waiting list.

Sec. Haaland touts more tribal stewardship of public lands, new oral history project, in NMPBS interview - NMPBS, Alice Fordham, KUNM News

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland spoke about dozens of new and upcoming agreements for tribal entities to manage public lands, and a planned oral history project with the Smithsonian, in an interview last week with New Mexico in Focus from NMPBS.

Haaland said that during more than two years at the Department of the Interior, 20 tribes have entered into co-stewardship agreements of public lands.

For instance, the National Bison Range in Montana is now managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Nez Perce Tribe is managing fish production at a hatchery in Idaho. She said 60 more such agreements are in the works.

"Tribes help us with their indigenous knowledge, their traditional knowledge that will help to steward our lands," she said.

Haaland, who is from the Pueblo of Laguna, also spoke with New Mexico PBS about the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which saw her visit Native communities across the country to hear boarding school survivors share their stories.

"Folks have told us that they were reluctant to share a thing with their families but felt it was time to finally say something about the experiences that they have had," she said.

She said that some of the wrongs of the boarding school system, including the erosion of Native languages, can be addressed by government initiatives, and encouraged young people to learn Indigenous languages.

Haaland added that an oral history project will be housed within the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

"Native American history is American history. And so we want to make sure that information is open to our larger country so that people can learn," she said.

Haaland also addressed this year's freeze in drilling leases on federal lands around Chaco Canyon. Although some people say the ban doesn't go far enough, and others say tribal leaders were not consulted sufficiently, she said the 10-mile buffer will ensure the park’s cultural history will be protected, and that over 100,000 public comments were received and considered.

Lawmakers gave the attorney general $1 million in 2022 to help find missing Indigenous people. The money hasn’t been spent. - Bella Davis, New Mexico In Depth

Nearly two years after state lawmakers set aside $1 million for the New Mexico Attorney General’s office to create an online portal to track cases of missing Indigenous people, and potentially give tribes grants to help in that search, the office hasn’t spent the money.

Lawmakers in early 2022 considered the need so great they attached an emergency clause to the legislation, meaning then-Attorney General Hector Balderas could have started spending the money that February instead of months later, the usual practice for most new laws.

An audit of programs completed earlier this year, though, revealed the funds weren’t used while Balderas was in office, according to Lauren Rodriguez, communications director for Balderas’ successor, Raúl Torrez. Balderas couldn’t be reached for comment.

Despite Torrez taking over more than 10 months ago, the money continues to sit untouched.

Part of the reason, according to Rodriguez, is that about six months after lawmakers appropriated the money for the attorney general’s office, the FBI created a database of Indigenous people missing from New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, to which all law enforcement agencies, including tribal, can submit information.

But other provisions in the statute haven’t been met, either. No grants have gone out to tribes.

Asked why that hasn’t happened, Rodriguez said she “can’t speak to the timeline.”

The office aims to grant at least some of the $1 million to tribes by next July, the deadline state lawmakers set for the attorney general to spend the money, Rodriguez said. If the money is not spent, it would return to the state’s consumer settlement fund.

Part of the grant-making process will include consulting with tribes to determine what their needs are, Rodriguez said, adding that those meetings haven’t happened yet, as far as she knows.

“We’re going to make sure that the funds are allocated in an appropriate way,” she said.

Sen. Shannon Pinto, (Diné), a Democrat from Tohatchi who was one of the bill’s sponsors, said she’s “disappointed” the money hasn’t been spent. A state task force Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham disbanded earlier this year highlighted a lack of data on both missing and murdered Indigenous people, Pinto said. A federal commission also outlined the necessity of better data collection in a report submitted to Congress this month.

Lawmakers were vague about what grants from the attorney general’s office could be used for, Pinto said, because each tribe has different needs.

“Do they need to create a position within their law enforcement, or do they need to get somebody to take reports?” she said. “Is there a backlog? Exactly where’s the gap for them?”

Pinto hopes the attorney general’s office talks with task force members — who gathered feedback from affected families to develop a state response plan — about how the funds should be used and whether the FBI database is sufficient.

The statute lawmakers passed also required the attorney general to hire one or more missing Indigenous persons specialists to review various databases and support law enforcement agencies in collecting data, along with other duties. Balderas in his final months in office assigned an agent to fill that position, according to Rodriguez.

The agent has helped find several Indigenous people from the list the FBI started last year, Rodriguez said, including two “runaway juveniles” who were reunited with their families.

Last updated in October, the list notes 203 Native Americans missing from the state and the Navajo Nation. Officials say that’s likely an undercount.

Albuquerque legalizes raw milk - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

Raw milk will now be available in Albuquerque grocery stores that opt to carry the previously-controlled substance.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the City Council last week legalized the sale of the dairy product on a 7-2 vote.

Raw milk is unpasteurized, meaning it hasn’t gone through a process that helps kill harmful bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Preventioncalls it “unfortunate” that people are choosing to drink raw milk, warning that it “can make you and your loved ones sick.”

However, a representative of the Raw Milk Institute told the City Council that raw milk sold in New Mexico is “low-risk,” because of state guidelines, including at least quarterly inspections for producers, according to the Journal.

Albuquerque grocery stores that choose to sell it will be required to hold a sushi-grade permit and undergo the additional inspections that come with that.

Government Affairs Manager for the City of Albuquerque Diane Dolan told the Journal that it would cost around $15,000 annually to inspect and permit all the grocery stores in the city to carry raw milk. However, she said the city does not expect all of them will.

Water Authority works on bosque restoration - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News 

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority is in the final planning stages of its long-waited Southside Water Restoration Project, but around $2.5 million is still needed to make it a reality.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, the plant would treat about 50-60 million gallons of wastewater every day and return it back to the Rio Grande.

Currently, the design is complete and the restoration project is permitted for the outfall structure at the South Valley plant on the Rio Grande's east side.

The aim is to improve water quality, increase community and maintenance access, rehabilitate the floodplain, – and provide a better habitat for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.

The Legislature has already provided about $1.2 million, but District 26 Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas wants more investment in bosque restoration.

Maestas said the remaining funding for the project would have to likely come from capital outlay appropriations. He also told the Journal he’s on the lookout for other proposals that would restore or enhance the bosque.

Republicans want to pair border security with aid for Ukraine. Here's why that makes a deal so tough - By Mary Clare Jalonick and Stephen Groves Associated Press

As Congress returns to session this week, lawmakers will be trying to forge an agreement on sending a new round of wartime assistance to Ukraine. But to succeed, they will have to find agreement on an issue that has confounded them for decades.

Republicans in both chambers of Congress have made clear that they will not support additional aid for Ukraine unless it is paired with border security measures to help manage the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Their demand has injected one of the most contentious issues in American politics into a foreign policy debate that was already difficult.

Time is short for a deal.

A small, bipartisan group in the Senate is taking the lead and working to find a narrow compromise that can overcome a likely filibuster by winning 60 votes. But even if they can reach a modest agreement, there is no guarantee it would pass the House, where Republicans are insisting on wholesale changes to U.S. border and immigration policies.

Republicans hope that Democrats will feel political pressure to accept some of their border proposals after illegal crossings topped a daily average of more than 8,000 earlier this fall. President Joe Biden, who is running for reelection next year, has faced pressure even from fellow Democrats over the migrant flow.

No matter what, finding compromise will be exceedingly difficult. As they left for Thanksgiving break, Senate negotiators said they were still far apart.

A look at some of the issues under discussion and why they have proved so difficult to resolve:

Asylum and humanitarian parole

Changing the asylum system for migrants is a top priority for Republicans. They want to make it more difficult for asylum-seekers to prove in initial interviews that they have a credible fear of political, religious or racial persecution in their home country before advancing toward asylum in the United States.

Republicans in the House have passed legislation that would detain families at the border, require migrants to make the asylum claim at an official port of entry and either detain them or require them to remain outside the U.S. while their case is processed.

U.S. and international law give migrants the right to seek safety from persecution, but the number of people applying for asylum in the U.S. has reached historic highs. Critics say many people take advantage of the system to live and work in the U.S. while they wait for their asylum claims to be processed in court.

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent who is part of the Senate negotiations, said in an Arizona radio interview that one of lawmakers' goals is to ensure that "those who are here seeking asylum have an actual claim to asylum."

Compromise is far from certain. Many Democrats are wary of making it harder to flee persecution, and the details of each policy shift are contentious.

Hardline conservatives in the House, already unlikely to support further Ukraine aid, have also signaled they won't accept policy changes that deviate much from a bill passed in May that would have remade the U.S. immigration system. Their stance means at least some support from House Democrats will be needed to pass any agreement — no easy task.

Some progressives have already said they will oppose any Republican-led changes to immigration policy.

"The cruel, inhumane, and unworkable solutions offered by Republicans will only create more disorder and confusion at the border," said Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Infrastructure and enforcement

Lawmakers may find it easier to reach consensus on other areas of border policy, particularly when it comes to border staffing and enforcement.

Negotiators have looked at steps that could be taken to reinforce existing infrastructure at the border, including hiring and boosting pay for border patrol officers and improving technology. One proposal advanced by a bipartisan group of senators would call for hiring of more border patrol agents, raising their pay and ensuring they receive overtime.

Biden has shown a willingness to accept tougher enforcement measures, recently resuming deportation of migrants to Venezuela and waiving federal laws to allow for the construction of border wall that began under then-President Donald Trump. The White House also wants to install new imaging technology at ports of entry that would allow authorities to quickly scan vehicles for illegal imports, including fentanyl.

Republicans say that is not enough. They want more robust improvements, including more expansive construction of a border wall.

What Biden is asking for

Biden's emergency request to Congress included aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, along with $14 billion to bolster the immigration system and border security. Money would go toward hiring more border patrol agents, immigration judges and asylum officers. It's part of Biden's strategy of trying to simultaneously turn away from Trump's hard-line policies but adapt to the realities of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Still, polls indicate widespread frustration with Biden's handling of immigration and the border, creating a political vulnerability as he seeks reelection. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told the Senate Appropriations Committee this month that the administration has been faced with a "global phenomenon" of displaced people migrating in numbers that have not been seen since World War II.

"It is unanimous that our broken immigration system is in dire need of reform," Mayorkas said.

Democrats have other immigration priorities, such as expanding legal immigration pathways or work authorizations for migrants already in the U.S. Democrats have also warned about the danger of delaying aid to Ukraine as it enters another winter of war against Russia.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said it's a mistake to create a situation where "we have to do significant immigration reform in the next few weeks or we won't send money to assist the people in Ukraine or other causes important to our national security."

Republicans have so far been adamant about the need to address Ukraine and the border at the same time.

Rep. Mike Turner, a strong supporter of aid to Ukraine and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that he thought passing Biden's package would be "very difficult" to accomplish by year's end. "The impediment currently is the White House policy on the on the southern border," said Turner, R-Ohio.

What's likely not on the table

Lawmakers seem unlikely to address one of the nation's long-standing immigration issues: granting some form of permanent legal status to thousands of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Republicans have made clear that will not be addressed in this package, which they want to be more narrowly focused on border security measures.

As Congress struggled to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul, President Barack Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012 to shield those immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally in the country. But it has been caught up in the courts ever since, and Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, tried to end it when he was in the White House.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of the Senate negotiators, would not say early last week whether his side had proposed DACA provisions as part of the talks. But he said any deal "has to respect both Republican and Democratic priorities."

"The more Republicans want, the more Democrats are going to want," Murphy said.

Republicans argue that Ukraine aid could be a tough sell to some of their voters, and the border policy is the compromise.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican who has been involved in the talks, said before the Thanksgiving holiday that the negotiations were not "very close yet, because Democrats have not yet accepted that the negotiations are not border security for Democratic immigration priorities. It's border security for Ukraine aid."

So far, leaders in both parties have encouraged the talks. But as senators restart their work and face pressure to approve funding by the end of the year, some are warning that a narrow deal is likely the best that they can do.

"I don't think it's realistic to solve anywhere close to the whole problem in the next two weeks," Murphy said.

New Mexico fires Danny Gonzales after he goes 11-32 over four seasons - Associated Press

New Mexico has fired coach Danny Gonzales, who never won more than four games over four seasons.

The Lobos were 11-32 under Gonzales and ended this season 4-8 after a 44-41 loss to Utah State on Saturday.

Athletic director Eddie Nuñez said Gonzales brought stability to the football program during a difficult time and that he is grateful for the positive impact Gonzales had on his players.

"In the end," Nuñez said, "we did not achieve the results on the field that we had wanted."

Gonzales, 47, is an Albuquerque native who played for the Lobos and was an assistant under former coach Rocky Long.

"While I'm disappointed, I will always appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to return to the University of New Mexico and lead the football program as head coach," Gonzales said. "I'm proud of the program we built and will always cheer on my alma mater in the future."

Too many schools are underperforming, top New Mexico education official says - Associated Press

Far too many schools in New Mexico are underperforming, and the state's top education official says the focus of his agency's next budget proposal will be on holding districts and schools responsible for student achievement.

The budget blueprint is due Thursday, but Public Education Secretary Arsenio Romero and other officials have declined to release any details before the deadline, the Albuquerque Journal reported Friday.

The proposed spending plan will follow the overdue release last month of results from spring standardized testing. The results show just 38% of tested students were proficient in reading, marking a slight uptick from the previous year. However, statewide math proficiency stands stagnant at 24%.

Romero sent a letter last week to the state's school districts calling for accountability from his own department, district leaders, charter schools, teacher unions as well as families. He wrote that he was alarmed by the high number of low-performing schools and what that means for the state.

"Far too many of our schools are underperforming. Students statewide have low reading and math proficiencies. This is unacceptable," the letter stated. "It is time for accountability. We owe this accountability to our state's most precious resource: children."

In addition to its funding request, the Public Education Department also aims to use proposed new rules to enforce accountability. One such rule would establish an accreditation process for school districts.

If a district is not approved for accreditation, the state agency could mandate the district create a plan to correct course or the agency could take over that district's educational and operational planning.

A public hearing for that rule is scheduled for Dec. 18 in Santa Fe.

American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Whitney Holland said Romero's letter has caused some concern among educators and she questioned what more accountability would look like.

"We are already facing a vacancy crisis, and when we say things like 'Be more accountable' — I think we have to be really careful, because that's going to disincentivize the profession," Holland said.

Legislative analysts also have called out the Public Education Department's delay in releasing the spring assessment results. Last year, the department published that data Sept. 1, and though it promised a quicker turnaround this year, did not release the information until Nov. 1.

Senior Policy Analyst Tim Bedeaux told members of the Legislative Education Study Committee during a meeting last week that the goal should be to get the data sooner so that lawmakers have enough time before the January start of their legislative session to understand whether the state's investments are working.

Amanda Aragon, executive director of the advocacy group NewMexicoKidsCAN, has said that the improvements in reading proficiency are positive but that overall the numbers are concerning for key groups of students. She pointed out that Hispanic, Native American and economically disadvantaged students are behind the statewide averages.

Lawmakers also have criticized the lack of progress New Mexico students have shown, particularly when it comes to graduation rates.

Democratic Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup, who chairs the legislative committee, directed criticism toward districts over lagging student outcomes. He noted that cash balances have grown over recent years as student populations have declined.

"We haven't moved the needle at all," he said. "We're paying more for kids, and we're still not getting there."