Shortly after she won the New Mexico governership, Susana Martinez (R) told Univision that she did not support bringing Arizona’s tough immigration law, SB-1070, to her state. “No, no, I don’t want that for New Mexico,” said Martinez. However, Martinez has come under some sharp criticism for issuing an executive order which has caused some opponents to claim that the governor has “created an SB 1070-like policy.”
Martinez’s order rescinds a policy by former Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) which prohibited state law enforcement from asking about a person’s immigration status only for the purpose of determining whether the individual was in violation of federal immigration laws. However, it appears Martinez is going a few steps farther by actually directing state law enforcement to ask about a person’s immigration status upon arrest:
WHEREAS, when a person, regardless of race, is arrested for a crime, state law enforcement officers shall inquire into the criminal suspect’s immigration status, and report relevant information to federal immigration enforcement authorities
I spoke with Melissa Keaney today, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center who expressed some serious concerns about Martinez’s directive. To begin with, the executive order doesn’t specify at what point during the process of being arrested a person’s status should be checked. Given the fact that a lot of times victims and witnesses accidentally get arrested before it is clear who committed a crime, it makes a big difference whether a person is asked about their immigration status upon being booked in jail or at the time of conviction. Keaney also pointed out that the Secure Communities program — which allows police to identify undocumented immigrants by screening their fingerprints against immigration databases — is already used in 97 percent of the state. That means that Martinez is essentially adding yet another layer of police involvement in the enforcement of federal immigration law.
However, despite these troubling issues with Martinez’s executive order, Keaney affirmed, “I could not say this is an SB-1070 copycat by any stretch of the imagination.” Brittney Nystrom, Director of Policy and Legal Affairs at the National Immigration Forum agrees. She pointed out to me that while SB-1070 allows for a warrantless arrest as soon as there is probable cause that the individual committed a deportable offense, Martinez’s order appears to be be limited to asking questions about immigration status and then reporting that information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “No arrest power is set forth for New Mexico law enforcement officers,” stated Nystrom. Read more