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.

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.

ABQ immigrant and refugee leaders: Relationship with next mayor is critical

As Albuquerque heads into a runoff election next week to choose its future mayor, local immigrant and refugee advocates stress that having a positive relationship with Albuquerque’s next mayor is very important to the wellbeing of their communities. New Mexico In Depth spoke with leaders of four nonprofit organizations who work with immigrants and refugees about what’s at stake as the city nears the final vote on who will be its next mayor. A range of issues were mentioned: family unity, worker’s rights and skills development, safety, and breaking down institutional racism perpetuated by city practices and policies. All stressed the need for a mayor who cares about immigrants and refugees. Andrea Plaza, Encuentro and Fabiola Bawden, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos

“The leadership in the city sets the tone for the attitude and approach to working with the immigrant community, and if that tone is a positive one, then the business community can fall in line, the educational community, the health community,” said Andrea Plaza, executive director of Encuentro, an organization that provides education and skill development for immigrants.

ABQ political groups spending down in final stretch to election day

Heading into the final weekend before Albuquerque’s municipal election on Tuesday, some independent political groups have spent most of the total money they’ve collected while others haven’t spent any, according to a review of financial reports filed today. It’s possible that an influx of money will enter the race in the final hours before the election, with associated attack ads, robocalls, and mailers. But here’s a rundown of the money to date reported by the 2017 measure finance committees — how much they’ve raised and how much they still have on hand to date. Albuquerque Coalition for a Healthy Economy and Realtors Association of New Mexico Education Public on Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, has raised $218,247, with $51,016 remaining in its account heading into the weekend. This group was created to oppose the sick leave ordinance.

Second Santolina backed group goes after ABQ council candidates

A new Santolina backed political committee popped up an electronic billboard and sent out mailers on Albuquerque’s west side late last week to support the re-election bid of City Councilor Ken Sanchez. Energize Albuquerque filed a campaign report showing a $20,000 contribution from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the company seeking to create a massive master planned community in far west Bernalillo County that would be called Santolina. Over the past two weeks, another committee backed in part by Santolina developer Jeff Garrett, called Make Albuquerque Safe, blanketed the city with negative ads against mayoral candidate Tim Keller. Both Energize Albuquerque and Make Albuquerque Safe are helmed by Denise Romero, Chairperson, and Donna Taylor, Treasurer. NM In Depth reached out to Donna Taylor, whose email is listed on the committee report, and Garrett, to ask them why they support Sanchez.

Dark Money rearing its head in ABQ elections

With Albuquerque’s city election less than a month away, a number of independent groups have registered with the city as political committees, ramping up to make their views known. As of last Friday when the latest campaign finance reports were filed, such committees have raised a combined total of $824,441. That’s 20 percent of all the money raised so far this election cycle, that will see a new mayor elected, as well as numerous new city councilors. There is a controversial ballot measure on the ballot as well. The money will be used to bombard Albuquerque voters–and all other listeners to the big television and radio stations–with political ads for and against candidates and issues.

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.

UNM grads are leaving the state

New Mexico is known for certain characteristics: great beer, the beautiful environment and a rich culture. But the results of a small survey of University of New Mexico graduates and upperclassmen by NMID corroborates another characteristic and long-term trend the state’s leaders and policymakers repeatedly lament. Many of the state’s best-educated youth are departing the state for places with better job opportunities. A written survey distributed to 29 upperclassmen of 27 different majors, in both the arts and science fields, asked whether the students plan to stay in the state or not. Additionally, NMID conducted 10 one-on-one personal interviews with upperclassmen, gaining qualitative insight into their future prospects.

Cannabis advocates undeterred in face of federal threat

During his campaign for president, Donald Trump said he would leave marijuana laws in the hands of the states, but his appointment of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general has created uncertainty about the future of the legalization movement. At a speech on March 15, Sessions made his views clear. “I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” he said. “And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”

But Emily Kaltenbach, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico, said it’s too late to backtrack on the issue. It’s a states’ rights issue, and some governors have already pushed back at the anti-marijuana rhetoric, she said.

Gov. remains mum on hemp bills

At the midpoint of New Mexico’s legislative session, bills that would legalize hemp research are moving at a clip through both chambers. But the governor’s not saying whether she’ll sign bills that would establish rules for cultivating the plant and a research fund at a state university, and remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. Senate bill 6 has one more hearing in a House committee before it heads to the House floor for a final vote. The bill establishes a research and development fund at New Mexico State University and removes cannabis plants cultivated for industrial hemp from the definition of “marijuana” in the Controlled Substances Act. The bill’s sponsor, Cisco McSorley, D Albuquerque, touts the economic benefits of researching hemp in the state.