Some of NMID Fellows’ Best 2017 Work

When New Mexico In Depth created a fellowship for journalism students of color at University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University, we had high hopes for impactful, community-based stories. We haven’t been disappointed. Here are just a few of the stories created by Melorie Begay, Xchelzin Peña, and Robert Salas in 2017. Churches emerge as important refuge for immigrants. Xchelzin Peña explored the reasons behind refuge offered by Holy Cross Retreat Center in Las Cruces to immigrants facing deportation, with the most recent case being that of Martha Lorena Rivera.

Las Cruces City Council affirms immigrant friendly policies

Las Cruces city councilors unanimously voted Monday to affirm the city’s policy prohibiting police from questioning people about their immigration status unless doing so is necessary in a criminal investigation. A resolution, presented by Police Chief Jaime Montoya and City Attorney Jennifer Vega-Brown, affirmed the city’s current Human Rights ordinance as well as several existing policies of the police department which prohibit law enforcement officers from asking people to show proof of citizenship when responding to a domestic dispute, a traffic violation or other types of interactions with the public. Before voting for the resolution, city councilors focused their questions on policing and enforcement of federal immigration law. “We enforce criminal law, we do not enforce administrative law, which is immigration law,” Montoya explained to Councilor Gabriel Vasquez. Councilor Yvonne Flores questioned Montoya about procedures during routine traffic stops, particularly related to warrants for deportation violations, which she noted are federal felonies.

Churches emerge as important refuge for immigrants

Martha Lorena Rivera of Alamogordo had been checking in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2011 to renew a stay of removal she said she’s been given annually for humanitarian reasons. In past years she received approval in the mail, but this year was different. On the morning of Oct. 10, her “world came down,” she said in an interview with New Mexico In Depth. When she presented her application in late September at the El Paso ICE processing center, agents gave her a follow-up appointment for two weeks later.

Cleveland High School report card

Report praises NM’s school report cards as easy to access, read

I began looking for Cleveland High School’s report card with the simple Google search “New Mexico school report cards.” The first listing was School Grading – New Mexico Public Education Department. I followed the link straight to PED’s school grading portal. It was easy enough from there to get to the Rio Rancho school district and the high school. Clicking on the map marker (labeled with an A), I was able to bring up a link to Cleveland’s report card. Yep, it’s an A-grade school.

Keller sweeps high dollar race to be ABQ’s next mayor

State Auditor Tim Keller landed strong in his bid to be Albuquerque’s next mayor, sweeping up just under 62 percent of the vote last night in an election with large turnout for Albuquerque — 29 percent. Keller ran a largely positive campaign, emphasizing along the way grassroots support for his campaign. The only candidate in the race who went for public financing, he raised 6,000 small donations of $5 early in the year to qualify for public funding. He noted in his victory speech the positive nature of his campaign, saying he had “rejected division.”

His positive campaign overcame negative ads charging he was soft on sex offenders and numerous ethics complaints filed by his political opponents. As a publicly financed candidate he was in the middle of the pack financially, in what was the most expensive mayoral race in Albuquerque, ever.

FYI building in Las Cruces, NM.

With agreement in hand, behavioral health CEO believed vindication was inevitable

Even in his final days of battling leukemia in early 2016, Jose Frietze was fighting for the youth services agency he founded in 1977. The state Human Services Department had accused the organization — Las Cruces-based Families and Youth Inc. — of potential Medicaid fraud and overbilling by $856,745 in 2013. A stop payment of $1.5 million in Medicaid funding for services already provided crimped FYI’s cash flow, leading to layoffs. And because of the accusations, FYI was forced to hand off part of its business to an Arizona company brought in by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Frietze’s daughters Victoria and Marisa remember how tough the allegations were on Frietze and their family.

Fracking boom leads to tension in Navajo communities

On a windy Monday morning in May, residents packed the Counselor Chapter House. Some sat in plastic folding chairs, while others leaned against the wall, all paying attention to the speakers. Coming to the front of the chapter house, Marie Chavez Herbert introduced herself in the Navajo language. “I’m going to talk real fast OK,” she said as she took the microphone to talk about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in her community near Chaco Canyon. Four members of the Navajo Nation Council, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Councilor Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Councilor Davis Filfred and Councilor Leonard Tsosie who represents Counselor as well as nearby chapters, had come to hear testimony from area residents. The listening session, which lasted about five hours, provided a glimpse into tensions in several small Navajo communities near Chaco Canyon over an uptick in fracking in recent years, pitting those who worry about the public health hazards it poses against government agencies who authorize it, as well as some of their neighbors who benefit  economically from leasing their land to oil and gas companies.

Black leaders call for more communication between city and community

Black community leaders and citizens have taken to the airwaves to call for reform as more information surfaces about a federal sting operation that arrested a disproportionate number of blacks in a city with comparatively few African Americans. Earlier this month, I interviewed leaders from several black community groups, as well as black citizens, for a New Mexico In Depth story about the design of the 2016 criminal operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF operation used three black and two Hispanic confidential informants (none were white) and focused on a low-income, largely minority section of southeast Albuquerque.  Last week on NMPBS’s public affairs show, New Mexico In Focus, I continued that discussion with Patrick Barrett of the local chapter of the NAACP and Janette McClelland, a resident of one of the neighborhoods targeted in the operation.  (NMPBS is an NMID partner.

NM settles $2.8M Medicaid overpayment claim for $485

As Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella might have said, “Nevermind!”

More than four years after accusing Southwest Counseling Center of overbilling the state by $2.8 million in Medicaid reimbursements, the Human Services Department has settled with the former Las Cruces behavioral health provider for $484.87. SWCC was one of 15 health organizations accused of overbilling and potential fraud by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration in 2013.  The state suspended Medicaid payments to the organizations pending an investigation, and outsourced behavioral health contracts to five Arizona companies, which effectively crippled the network of New Mexico behavioral health providers.  All the while, the state kept an audit they used to justify the move secret, making it impossible for each organization to know what they were being accused of specifically. See a timeline and read of coverage of the Medicaid freeze here.

NMID welcomes Sylvia Ulloa and says goodbye to Sandra Fish

Changes are coming to New Mexico In Depth. First, we’re thrilled to announce Sylvia Ulloa is joining our team. Sylvia most recently was managing editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News in the agricultural Mesilla Valley in southern New Mexico. Sylvia brings extensive experience in multi-media reporting and building engagement opportunities. She’ll be instrumental in deepening New Mexico In Depth’s community engagement program going forward, and we are looking forward to on-the-ground reporting from southern New Mexico.