Commentary: Tuesday's Doña Ana County Commission meeting was startlingly cordial and collegial.
A group of schoolkids was there on a field trip. I hoped the cooperative spirit would survive their departure, and was glad to see that it did. Chairwoman Isabella Solis, looking increasingly comfortable in her new role, praised the other Commissioners; Commissioners differed on some points, but expressed those differences in a cooperative manner; and Billy Garrett and Kiki Vigil even agreed on a couple of things. When Garrett and Undersheriff Ken Roberts discussed a budget issue, they acknowledged that they held opposing views but expressed respect for each other's positions.
Among other business, the Commission considered a resolution, introduced by Commissioner Ramon Gonzalez, expressing distaste toward ramped-up ICE raids on undocumented residents living peaceably among us. (It did not oppose enforcing state laws or arresting criminals.) Resolutions have no legal force. As Solis noted, it was “not telling the Federal Government what to do, but only telling the Federal Government of our concerns.”
Lengthy public input featured a heavy majority favoring the resolution, some eloquently, and some vigorous opposition.
A middle-aged Hispanic woman, who owns a farm near the border described working in the fields with her son “who is also brown,” and being invaded on occasion by border patrol agents asking to see her papers. She said she could understand the fear felt by those without papers.
Others gave moving accounts of fear and suffering by split families and children. Several veterans said the current overeager enforcement of the law wasn't what they'd fought for. Sheriff Vigil read a strong statement that his job was not enforcement of federal law but enforcement of state laws.
Opponents tended to express fears of crimes by illegal immigrants, although such crimes represent a tiny percentage of crimes here. (One result of the ICE raids will be increased fear, which will further chill crime victims who fear that reporting crimes could get victims or witnesses deported.) Others apparently missed the fact that the resolution lacked legal force, didn't purport to “nullify” any federal law, and violated neither the U.S. nor the New Mexico Constitution.
The most articulate opponent, a former DASO detective, praised Commissioner Gonzalez for “standing up for something he truly believes in,” and said that while he sympathized with the feelings behind the resolution, he ultimately had to support “my brothers in ICE” and DASO.
On both sides, I heard more than the usual expressions of sympathy or understanding for the opposition speakers. One opponent urged proponents to “sponsor an illegal alien,” helping the person to get a green card. She described a friend doing so for a gardener, who now has green card and a regular job.
The schoolchilden I asked all said they felt “sorry for those people.”
So did the Commission, which approved the resolution 4-1. Commissioner Rawson dissented.
Legally, this resolution means nothing. County commissioners have no authority over federal agents.
But maybe it means a lot. We live in uncertain times. That gentleman in the White House dials up the hate rhetoric frequently. He demonizes newspaper reporters, senators, judges, and even Gold Star Parents who disagree with him. All his life, he's violated the legal rights of blacks and women – and contractors with the gall to seek full payment for their work. He's prepared to run roughshod over the rights of immigrants, Muslims, and women. He may or may not also someday threaten our Constitutional and human rights in even more dangerous and less legal ways. If so, it will be important to stand up and be counted.
Maybe it's important now.
[Later in the day, the Commission decided to appeal an adverse decision in favor of the sheriff's deputies' union. Apologies for not discussing that here. Although I recall questioning the decision to appeal in the first place, and am a strong believer that deputies should be paid better, I need to read Judge Arrieta's decision -- and perhaps the written briefs the two sides submitted to him -- before expressing an opinion.]
[On another subject: Thursday evening at 5:30 the Zuhl Library on NMSU will host the annual Sunshine Week panel. Topic is "The Presidency and the Press -- Will Free Speech Survive," and we'll look at how current Press-Presidency relations compare to the past and what the current situation may suggest about the future. Panel (which I moderate) will include County Attorney Nelson Goodin, Sun-News Opinion Editor Walt Rubel, Journalism professor emeritus Frank Thayer, and Professor David Irvin. Audience questions are encouraged -- from people of all political views, particularly those who think highly of Donald Trump. Refreshments will be served. (Well, the flyer says they'll be served. I think they'll just be on tables, and you'll have to snag them yourself.)]