Mutual aid groups rushed to the rescue during COVID-19

Just enough to get people through — not a gallon of bleach, but a 4-ounce mason jar of it, half a dozen diapers, a few cups of beans, a bag of potatoes, some vegetables, a pound of hamburger meat. Almost every day, Albuquerque Mutual Aid volunteers sanitize and pack items, then load them into cars. Wearing masks and gloves, they drop care packages at people’s doors and photograph them to confirm delivery. 

The goal: fast, responsive care, particularly for those who might fall through the cracks. 

“All the barriers that people run into when they’re trying to access food, that’s what we try to address,” said Selinda Guerrero, with Fight For Our Lives. The organization pulled together with other groups to help people as the COVID-19 pandemic threw some New Mexicans out of work or made venturing out a risk they didn’t want to take. 

Roughly 90 volunteers help buy and sort groceries. They take donated food, too, including granola bars and cereal from General Mills that would otherwise be thrown away.

Tribes in NM under intense pressure to complete census count by new deadline

The Navajo Nation, one of the hardest hit communities in the nation by the COVID-19 pandemic, is confronting a new enemy: Time. 

With three weeks to go before the US Census is scheduled to end, 19% of Navajo people have responded to the U.S. Census, a much lower rate than for New Mexico and the U.S. overall, and lags behind all other tribes located within the state other than Jicarilla Apache.The once-a-decade head count of the U.S. population helps determine federal funding for healthcare, housing, roads, and a range of other important services and robust responses by tribal members ensure that their communities receive an equitable share of federal resources. 

But the census deadline looms ominously following the Trump administration’s decision in early August to abruptly move it from the end of October to September 30. Earlier this month the Navajo Nation and the Gila River Indian Community joined a lawsuit filed last month by several nonprofits, including the National Urban League and the League of Women Voters, as well as cities and counties in a number of states, to keep the census deadline at the end of October. 

There is no guarantee the court fight will end in an extended deadline, however. Over the past month, the Navajo Nation, which is one of the largest tribes in the U.S. and dwarfs other tribes in New Mexico by size, has nudged upward the number of people who have responded to the census, with responses rising from 10% in late July to 19%  this week. But that’s significantly lower than its 53.6% goal, presented on the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department website. The expedited census deadline comes as the Nation is still recovering from the pandemic, after months of curfews and lockdowns during which census workers weren’t able to canvas rural and often remote Navajo communities.

‘We sent 500 tests. They don’t answer calls’: Inside ICE’s coronavirus testing disaster

This story was produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization. Get their investigations emailed to you directly by signing up at revealnews.org/newsletter. Kathy Kunkel, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, was frustrated. She was getting reports the first week of May of horrifying conditions at the Otero County Processing Center, one of three U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities in the state. Detainees were responsible for disinfecting their own living spaces but weren’t getting adequate cleaning supplies.

Essential need for childcare workers made clear by pandemic

It’s late in the evening when I’m able to reach Yasmin Cervantes. She tells me she’s feeling nervous because she’s never done an interview before. We both chuckle. I reassure her that we’re just having a conversation about her experience. She chuckles again and begins to tell me about her day.

Doing impactful journalism in a chaotic world

I got into journalism years ago out of a desire to help people, as much a calling as a job. The last several days have reminded me why. A federal investigation released last week backed up the reporting of Bryant Furlow who wrote in June for us and our partner, ProPublica, that Lovelace Women’s Hospital had violated patients’ rights. Indeed, the investigation by the state of New Mexico and U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found the hospital had singled out pregnant Native American women for COVID-19 testing and separated mothers from their newborns without adequate consent until test results became available.Lovelace has submitted a plan to correct problems and has promised to conduct internal audits to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations and COVID-19 screening guidance.Lovelace has denied any wrongdoing, saying it never separated a baby from their mother without consent.But Native American mothers told investigators they “felt pressured or misled by the hospital when it came to ZIP code-based COVID-19 testing and newborn separations.”In one case, a Native American mother told investigators she was tested for COVID-19 without being informed she could say no. Only once labor had been induced, she told investigators, did a nurse-midwife explain that her newborn would be taken until her test results were available, NM In Depth reported.  

She then was given two options, the mother told investigators: 

She could stop the medication inducing contractions and sleep while she waited for test results, or she could continue the birth process and have her newborn taken away “because that’s the policy.”

“I told her, ‘You are not going to do that, and you are not going to take my baby,’” she told investigators.

Using tech and circuit riding to beat the pandemic

Kelly Maestas starts each weekday the same way, cranking up a school bus parked at the Cuba Independent School District bus barn.The sun has already risen over the San Pedro mountains in the Santa Fe National Forest. But on Friday morning a smoggy haze lingers over this rural redoubt of New Mexico thanks to the Medio fire just north of Santa Fe, the Pine Gulch Fire in Colorado or any of the 90 large fires in California. 

A few years ago Maestas traded in a big rig for the school bus. Rather than bustling with students, however, it’s empty save for a few dozen bags of meals and school assignments for the kids on his route.Over several hours, Maestas will stop 65 times — each stop a home of a student or students who attend Cuba’s schools — racking up 112 miles.These days Maestas and 10 other bus drivers are an integral component of the Cuba school district’s response to a global pandemic that mingles old-timey itinerant circuit-riding with 21st-century tech.Every day, the 11 bus drivers put close to 900 miles on their vehicles delivering food and education kits to the district’s more than 500 students who have yet to return to the classroom and in many cases, can not access the internet from home. Because so many Cuba students lack sufficient broadband or cellular service, the school district, which is larger than the state of Rhode Island, has distributed to every student special bracelets armed with a built-in USB-drive. Students use them to download lessons when they drive to an internet hotspot.

The founder of New Mexico’s new militia was a neo-Nazi skinhead

Facebook took down hundreds of pages yesterday in a crackdown on “movements and organizations tied to violence.” Among them was a  right-wing militia that rapidly rose to prominence this summer: the New Mexico Civil Guard. Like militias across the country, the group got attention by showing up to protests against police brutality and racism wearing camouflage and carrying rifles to, in their words, protect private property, while claiming to stand against racism as well. 

As journalists and activists documented various members’ white supremacist tattoos and participation in one organization the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a hate group, the militia’s founder Bryce Provance sought to distance them from racism and violence in statements to the media. 

But court records and interviews with Provance and others show his record in this regard is more extensive than has been previously reported: He spent most of his adult life as a violent and committed neo-Nazi skinhead. Provance said he left the group a few weeks ago, after a lawsuit was filed against the group by Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, alleging they were illegally usurping law enforcement duties and fostering violence. But he appears to continue to control the group’s email list and a PayPal account that collects donations on a New Mexico Civil Guard website that remains online. 

That website says they do not tolerate “Racism of any kind,” but the policy its current leadership describes is more like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” 

“I can’t for sure say someone would be exorcised from the unit for past beliefs or current beliefs as long as they keep them to themselves” said one of the NMCG’s current leaders, John Burks. “Nobody needs to know about it; Keep it to yourself.” 

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The New Mexico Civil Guard launched a Facebook page in March the day after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.