Tag Archives: New Mexico

Border Patrol erecting 18-foot fence in unwalled New Mexico area

Amid a debate over erecting a new border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. Border Patrol says it is finishing an 18-foot-tall steel fence in the last stretch of unwalled, urban borderline in New Mexico.

Officials say the new fencing will run a mile from the bottom of a mesa to the base of tourist attraction of Mount Cristo Rey, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

Currently, a run-down, 10-foot-high chain-link fence sits in the area and border patrol agents say it can be easily climbed and offers little protection in the city of Sunland Park.

The city sits just west of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico,

The new fence will be made of rust-colored steel columns and is part of an $11 million project authorized by the Bush administration under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

It will supplant the chain-link fencing erected in the 1980s.

The new barrier will be reinforced 5 feet underground with steel panels to prevent smugglers from building underground tunnels.

“It’s a fence that is replacing another fence,” said Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero. “It doesn’t hold anymore.”

Construction is expected to finish early in 2017.

But the new project is drawing scrutiny from some immigrant rights advocates.

Activists hold rallies here and reunions where undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. can meet.

For example, on Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Nov. 2, advocates hold a binational Mass to honor the migrants who have died trying to cross into the U.S. through the arid desert.

“In our opinion, the fencing has not necessarily been a good deterrence for immigration,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the El Paso-based immigrant advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights. “But it does represent a symbolic response, a very aggressive response, to immigrants and the border community.”

A Cronkite News-Univision News-Dallas Morning News border poll released last month found a majority of residents surveyed on both sides of the border are against the building of a wall between the two countries and believe the campaign’s tone is damaging relations.

According to the poll, 86 percent of border residents in Mexico and 72 percent of those questioned in the U.S. were against building a wall.

The poll surveyed 1,427 residents in 14 border sister cities to assess attitudes and opinions on the local economy, immigration and border security.

The issue of the border wall has garnered national attention since GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S.-Mexico border is already lined with intermittent miles of barriers.

In some places, a tall fence ascends desert hills.

In others, sturdy wire mesh or metal pillars end suddenly.

New Mexico city divided over proposal to name streets for King, Chavez

A proposal to rename Roswell, New Mexico, streets after Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez has divided officials and residents.

City councilors flung accusations of racial and ethnic bias while discussing the proposal during a recent meeting.

City Councilor Juan Oropesa says he believes opponents are against the idea because of the race, ethnicity of the two civil rights figures.

“They don’t want it because those are the two individuals,” Oropesa said of Chavez and King.

Councilor Jeanine Corn Best, however, denies the opposition has to do with race.

“Naming new streets make more sense,” said Corn Best, chair of the Infrastructure Committee. “Naming a street that is already named is incorrect.”

City Councilor Caleb Grant said no business owners on the two streets in the current proposal support the renaming. Some merchants said they would have to get all new business cards, letterhead and other materials with their company address. Others expressed concern about the cost of new street signs. Bobby Villegas, a local businessman, said the Hispanic community would raise money to change street signs.

Grant said he would approve of naming a new street “down the road.”

The full council plans to debate the issue in December after a decision on the city’s street naming policy is resolved, the Roswell Daily Record reported.

Residents attending the meeting also reflected the divisiveness stirred by the renaming. Villegas, who is Hispanic, said the city’s population has become more and more Latino. Naming a street after Chavez would “support us for the sake of our kids, for our future,” he said.

But other residents, such as Cleta Coen, believe the renaming is excessive. Roswell already has a park named after King, Coen said

“I don’t see any benefit of changing the names,” Coen said.

 

cesar_chavez

Erin Brockovich accuses feds of lying about toxic spill

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, made famous from the Oscar-winning movie bearing her name, this week accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of lying about how much toxic wastewater spilled from a Colorado mine and fouled rivers in three Western states.

Her allegation came during a visit to the nation’s largest American Indian reservation, where she saw the damage and met with Navajo Nation leaders and farmers affected by last month’s spill, which was triggered by an EPA crew during excavation work.

Brockovich said she was shocked by the agency’s actions leading up to the release of waste tainted with heavy metals and its response afterward.

“They did not tell the truth about the amount. There were millions and millions of gallons,” she said while speaking to a crowd of high school students in Shiprock, New Mexico.

The EPA did not immediately respond to email and telephone requests for comment. The agency initially pegged the spill at 1 million gallons but later said it was likely three times that amount given the readings of stream gauges that recorded a spike in river flows.

The revision only added to the suspicion of local officials that were criticizing the agency for failing to notify them sooner that the contaminated plume was headed downstream.

Uncertainty lingers over the long-term dangers to public health and the environment from the spill, which contaminated rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. EPA says the threat has eased, allowing treatment plants to start drawing water from the rivers again and ending warnings against recreational activities. But Navajo leadership is skeptical.

A series of congressional hearings investigating the spill will begin Wednesday. Republican committee leaders in the House and Senate say that EPA officials have withheld documents that could explain what went wrong.

Navajo President Russell Begaye also questions the number of gallons released. He recounted for Brockovich what he saw during an unannounced visit to the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, days after the spill. He said he saw a wide gully that was several feet deep and water continuing to pour out of the mine.

Some Navajo irrigation systems remain shuttered until the tribe receives results from its own water and sediment testing. As a result, Begaye has said thousands of acres of crops have gone dry.

Begaye and Brockovich met with farmers to discuss the effects of the spill on irrigation as well as the legacy of contamination left behind by decades of uranium mining.

During the stop in Shiprock, they told the students that it will be up to the next generation to hold government and private industry accountable.

“It’s a terrible disaster, and unfortunately it’s a situation we see playing itself out not only on the Navajo Nation, but across the United States of America,” Brockovich said, referring to pollution and lax enforcement.

“You are the future and you will be the answers,” she told the students.

Brockovich was portrayed in the 2000 movie, “Erin Brockovich,” which earned actress Julia Roberts an acting Oscar. The environmental advocate helped investigate a major case of groundwater contamination in California in the early 1990s that inspired the film.

As for the Gold King spill, Brockovich said the federal government needs to clean up the mess.

Navajo officials say the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the EPA have declined the tribe’s requests for continued help, including the appointment of a federal recovery coordinator.

A FEMA spokeswoman said the EPA was the lead agency and would be responsible for coordinating with the tribe and other local governments.

2 Albuquerque officers charged with murder in March shooting

Deadly police encounters in New York and Missouri resulted in no charges against the officers recently amid closed-door grand jury proceedings that infuriated some members of the public. Faced with a similar decision for a high-profile police shooting in New Mexico, the top prosecutor in Albuquerque took an entirely different approach.

The Albuquerque district attorney brought murder charges this week against two officers who shot a mentally ill homeless man during a standoff last year, bypassing a grand jury and taking the case before a judge who will decide at a public hearing whether the case should move forward.

“Unlike Ferguson and unlike in New York City, we’re going to know. The public is going to have that information,” District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said. “I think officer-involved shooting cases are important around the country where we want to share all that information with the public.”

The March shooting death of 38-year-old James Boyd led to protests and helped lead to a major federal-ordered overhaul of the Albuquerque Police Department amid a rash of police shootings over the last five years.

It also came during a year when police tactics came under intense scrutiny nationwide, fueled by the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death of another unarmed man in New York City. Grand juries declined to charge officers in those cases, leading to more large protests.

Police said SWAT team member Dominique Perez and former detective Keith Sandy fatally shot Boyd, who had frequent violent run-ins with law enforcement. Video from an officer’s helmet camera showed Boyd appearing to surrender when officers opened fire, but a defense lawyer characterized him as an unstable suspect who was “unpredictably and dangerously close to a defenseless officer while he was wielding two knives.”

“I’m looking forward … to the DA’s office presenting one single witness that says this is murder,” said Sam Bregman, a lawyer for Sandy.

Brandenburg refused to provide specifics about the reasons for bringing the case, but said it was a lengthy and deliberate process involving several members of her staff.

A date for the preliminary hearing has not been set. The officers have not been booked or arrested. That would not happen until a judge renders a decision at the preliminary hearing. A date has not been set.

The case suddenly elevates the stature of the district attorney, who has been elected to four consecutive terms and been in office since 2001. Brandenburg is the daughter of a prosecutor who served as a public defender before becoming the prosecutor in New Mexico’s most populous city.

The criminal charges were the first Brandenburg has brought against officers in a shooting. She is also waging a fight with the Albuquerque Police Department over allegations that she committed bribery while intervening on behalf of her son in a burglary case.

Police believe she should be charged with bribery because, they say, she offered to pay a victim not to press charges. The attorney general’s office is handling the matter.

Brandenburg said the charges against police had nothing to with the agency’s investigation into her and that her office got the case long before the bribery claims came to light.

Each officer faces a single count in the March death of the 38-year-old Boyd. The charges allow prosecutors to pursue either first-degree or second-degree murder against the officers.

Even before Boyd’s death, the U.S. Justice Department was investigating the use of force by Albuquerque police. The department recently signed an agreement to make changes after the government issued a harsh report. The agreement requires police to provide better training for officers and to dismantle troubled units.

Since 2010, Albuquerque police have been involved in more than 40 shootings – 27 of them deadly. After Boyd’s death, outrage over the trend grew and culminated with protests that included a demonstration where authorities fired tear gas and another that shut down a City Council meeting.

Bregman said there is “not one shred” of evidence to support the case and insisted the officer had no criminal intent when he encountered Boyd. He said Sandy followed training procedures outlined by the police department.

Luis Robles, an attorney for Perez, said he was “confident that the facts will vindicate officer Perez’s actions in this case.”

The FBI is also investigating, but U.S. authorities have not said if the officers will face federal charges.

Police are legally empowered to use deadly force when appropriate, and a 1989 Supreme Court decision concluded that an officer’s use of force must be evaluated through the “perspective of a reasonable officer on scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”

Philip Matthew Stinson, a professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who studies police misconduct, found that local officers were charged in 41 cases with murder or manslaughter stemming from on-duty shootings between 2005 and 2011. By comparison, over the same period, police agencies reported more than 2,700 cases of justifiable homicide by law enforcement officers to the FBI, and that statistic is incomplete.

The figures suggest it’s difficult to get a conviction “because juries are so reluctant to second-guess an officer’s split-second decision,” Stinson said.

Suit threatened over possible lease sale of 20,000 acres in Santa Fe National Forest

A broad coalition of local and national conservation groups announced plans to sue the federal Bureau of Land Management if the agency proceeds with the sale of 13 parcels — almost 20,000 acres of public lands — in the Santa Fe National Forest for oil and gas fracking.

The BLM has received more than a 100 letters protesting the sale and challenging the agency’s failure to consider potentially serious impacts to the area’s air, water, wildlife and surrounding communities.

Coalition leaders say the leases would allow horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” — of the Santa Fe National Forest, a prospect that BLM has never studied. In fact, the agency has admitted that its current resource management plan governing drilling activities, finalized in 2003, is outdated and no longer able serve this essential function.

“In a rush to satisfy the demands of the oil and gas industry, BLM is ignoring its fundamental legal obligations and circumventing the underlying oil and gas drilling planning process,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “There is broad commitment from groups to go to court if necessary to ensure our treasured landscapes are not destroyed.”

“BLM has already leased 94 percent of our public lands around the Farmington, Nex Mexico, area for oil and gas drilling,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance. “This new lease sale on the Santa Fe National Forest would continue this reckless, lease-everywhere mentality that destroys recreation, wildlife, and cultural resources and ignores BLM’s responsibilities to honestly analyze impacts.” 

“Oil and gas drilling these days is significantly different than that of only 11 years ago,” said Pete Dronkers of Earthworks. “The wells are bigger, go deeper and for miles in every direction. They release far more hazardous waste into the air and water. BLM has to study these newer impacts before it permits further drilling in the San Juan Basin.”

The lease sale is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Oct. 22 at the BLM New Mexico State Office in Santa Fe.

The coalition of conservation groups is represented by Western Environmental Law Center, and includes: Amigos Bravos, Chaco Alliance, Earthworks, Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and WildEarth Guardians.

Woman says she was expelled from college for marrying another woman

A woman said on July 14 that she was expelled from a private, Christian college in suburban Oklahoma City because she married her same-sex partner.

Christian Minard, 22, said she received a letter last week from Southwestern Christian University notifying her of the expulsion after returning from her honeymoon in Las Vegas. Minard said she did not know how the university learned of her March 17 marriage in Albuquerque, New Mexico, though she did say she posted her marriage license on Facebook.

“I’m not friends with anyone from my university. And there have been pictures of us because we’ve been in relationship for 3 1/2 years, and no one ever said word,” Minard said.

University Academic Vice President and Provost Connie Sjoberg said Minard had been a student at the school in the Oklahoma City suburb of Bethany but no longer was. She said federal privacy laws kept her from providing details.

“We are limited in what we can discuss,” Sjoberg said. “We would definitely love to address that (reason for expulsion), but we need permission from the individual to speak in depth.”

Minard admitted that she violated her signed student conduct code, known as a lifestyle principal, which prohibits homosexual relationships. The code also includes prohibitions on smoking, drinking, cheating, premarital sex, discrimination, harassment and profanity.

“I do acknowledge to breaking that covenant,” Minard said, but she said other students break the code without facing consequences.

Sjoberg referred questions about student code violations to the student handbook, which includes the lifestyle covenant.

“We definitely are open to discussing (with students) any situation that we have here at the university,” Sjoberg said. “We are committed to our founding principles and our lifestyle covenant”

The Christian liberal arts university was founded in 1946 by the International Pentecostal Holiness Church as Southwestern Bible College. It became Southwestern College of Christian Ministries in 1981 and Southwestern Christian University in 2001.

Minard said she plans to transfer to a public college in an effort to complete her degree in sports management and hopes to eventually work as strength and conditioning coach.

Feds: organic cat litter may have caused radiation release at U.S. nuclear dump

The investigation into a February radiation release from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico has turned to a seemingly unusual suspect: cat litter.

Federal officials have zeroed in on a barrel of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory as the source of the leak, and one theory is that a change in the type of cat litter that it was packed with caused a leak that contaminated 22 workers with low levels of radiation on Feb. 14, shuttering the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, indefinitely.

State environment officials now say more than 500 barrels of waste from decades of nuclear bomb-making at Los Alamos were packed the same way, and they are concerned that the barrels scattered between the underground dump, Los Alamos’ northern New Mexico campus and a commercial disposal site in West Texas pose a potentially “imminent and substantial” danger to public health and the environment.

Here are questions and answers about the waste:

WHY WAS CAT LITTER USED IN THE FIRST PLACE?

The cat litter was used to absorb moisture in sealed barrels of nuclear waste at Los Alamos, home to the some of the world’s finest scientists. Officials have said cat litter has long been used to pack waste because of its absorption and neutralizing qualities. It’s commonly used, for example, by people to soak up oil spills in driveways. But Los Alamos switched from nonorganic to organic litter for packing waste in 2013, and the theory is that some kind of chemical reaction occurred between waste containing nitrate salts and the new litter. Officials said they are investigating who made the decision to make the switch and what process was followed.

HOW CAN CAT LITTER POSE SUCH A DANGER?

Investigators have said the litter theory is just one possible cause being explored, but it is being studied seriously enough to prompt New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn this week to order Los Alamos and the underground nuclear dump to put together plans for immediately isolating all 500-plus barrels of waste known to contain nitrate salts and organic cat litter. Based on evidence from crews that have been down in the mine since the release, a barrel of waste from Los Alamos experienced some type of “heat event” that burned the exterior and popped the waste container’s lid.

HOW MANY CONTAINERS WERE PACKED LIKE THIS AND WHERE ARE THEY?

More than 500, according to state regulators. More than 350 of the containers are already at the subterranean dump, in storage rooms carved into ancient salt beds a half mile below the ground. Fifty-seven are still on the campus of Los Alamos, which had been working under orders to remove the last of thousands of such containers from outdoor storage by the end of June. The waste came to the public’s attention three years ago as a massive wildfire lapped at the edges of lab property. More than 100 more barrels are at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas, where they were sent for temporary storage as Los Alamos worked to remove the waste following the radiation leak.

COULD THE OTHER BARRELS BE TICKING TIME BOMBS?

That question has state regulators concerned. Flynn this week ordered Los Alamos to submit plans for ensuring the 57 containers of questionably packed waste still on its campus are isolated and secure. The lab said it has packed them in special containers, placed them under a dome with a fire extinguishing system and is closely monitoring them. Waste Control Specialists has taken similar precautions. As for the more than 350 containers already at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Flynn has ordered the U.S. Department of Energy to expedite plans for sealing off the underground rooms where the waste is stored. Complicating that effort is the laborious investigative process. The cause of the leak has not yet been determined. Crews have been able to make about two trips a week into the area where the leak occurred, but it’s a painstaking process and they are still working to see if other containers have been breached.

Website ranks Albuquerque top ‘unexpected beer city’ in US

A website that rates U.S. cities according to what makes them ideal places to live is raising a glass to Albuquerque.

Livability.com recently named Albuquerque “Best Unexpected Beer City” in the United States.

Brewery owners say they believe the city is on the brink of a business surge in the industry.

While the city is known more for red and green chile, the site says residents have their pick of micro-breweries that consistently have fresh beer on tap.

Chama River Brewing Company, Marble Brewery and Kellys Brew Pub were among those highlighted.

David Facey, assistant brewer at Chama, says residents are starting to want the same quality and bold flavors in beer that they get from chile.

The key word in the list, which can be found here, is “unexpected.” Everyone knows about beer in Wisconsin.

AMC announces premiere for ‘Breaking Bad’ spinoff: ‘Better Call Saul’

Walter White’s lawyer is returning to Albuquerque.

AMC announced recently that the “Breaking Bad” spinoff, “Better Call Saul,” will premiere in November 2014, but no specific date has been released.

The series will follow sleazy attorney Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk, as he defends drug lords, criminals and those allegedly injured in minor traffic accidents.

The network has already created a website for the fiction lawyer, with Saul Goodman’s signature videos boasting how he can get anyone out of legal trouble. The website includes “testimonies” from a drug dealer and prostitute who tell potential clients how he got them out of jail.

“Breaking Bad,” which ended last year and was filmed in Albuquerque, followed former high school teacher Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston. White produced methamphetamine with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul.

Odenkirk played their attorney who came up with money laundering schemes from his Albuquerque shopping mall office.

AMC has given few details on the upcoming spinoff nor have show creators said how much of it would be filmed in Albuquerque.

But the fictional website shows “Breaking Bad” characters bragging in video on the streets of Albuquerque about how the convincing lawyer was able to pull them out of jail

For example, one such testimony comes from Badger, a methamphetamine dealer on “Breaking Bad” played by Matt Jones, who tells viewers that Goodman got him out of legal trouble after undercover officers arrested him for selling drugs _ a reference to an episode of “Breaking Bad.”

“And then, bam! Saul Goodman shows up,” Jones says in the video. “He’s like, get out of here cop, because of the Constitution.”

Within two days, Jones said he was back on the street and “burning one with my homies.”

The website also includes fictional advertisements from “Breaking Bad” businesses like Los Pollos Hermanos, a chicken restaurant used as a front for drug lord Gus Fring, played by Giancarlo Esposito.

Judge orders Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages for death certificates

A federal judge’s decision ordering Ohio authorities to recognize gay marriages on death certificates may be a narrow ruling, but observers — and even the judge himself — predict it will spark further litigation aimed at striking down the state’s ban on gay marriage.

In a broadly written ruling Dec. 23, Judge Timothy Black said Ohio’s ban is unconstitutional and that states cannot discriminate against same-sex couples simply because some voters don’t like homosexuality.

Although the ruling applies only to death certificates, his statements about the ban were sweeping and unequivocal, and are expected to incite further litigation challenging the law. Ohio’s attorney general said the state will appeal.

Black cited the Supreme Court’s June decision striking down part of a federal anti-gay marriage law, saying the lower courts are now tasked with applying that ruling.

“And the question presented is whether a state can do what the federal government cannot – i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004),” Black said in reference to the year Ohio’s gay marriage ban passed. “Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”

His ruling stems from a July lawsuit by two gay Ohio men whose spouses recently died and wanted to be recognized as married on their death certificates.

The men’s attorney, Al Gerhardstein, said he was considering whether to file further litigation right away or let Black’s decision “percolate for a little bit.”

“I can tell you that the reasoning in this opinion is broad and the principals he set out are firmly rooted in solid legal arguments, but they would support a broader attempt on marriage recognition and marriage celebration in Ohio, so we’re looking at that,” he said.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said the state will appeal Black’s decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati. He called Monday’s decision “not a huge surprise,” given earlier rulings Black made in the case.

“Our job is to defend the Ohio Constitution and state statutes … and that’s what we intend to do,” DeWine said.

Bridget Coontz, the attorney who argued on behalf of the state, said in Black’s Cincinnati courtroom that in the Supreme Court’s historic June decision, the justices also found that states have the right to decide for themselves whether to recognize gay marriage, and Ohio voters decided not to in 2004.

“Ohio doesn’t want Delaware or Maryland to define who is married under Ohio law,” she said. “To allow that to happen would allow one state to set the marriage policy for all others.”

Black said constitutional rights trump Ohio’s gay marriage ban, questioning whether it was passed for a legitimate state interest “other than simply maintaining a `traditional’ definition of marriage.”

He quoted then-Gov. Robert Taft, who said in 2004 that the law was intended “to reaffirm existing Ohio law with respect to our most basic, rooted, and time-honored institution: marriage between a man and a woman.”

Black wrote that “the fact that a form of discrimination has been `traditional’ is a reason to be more skeptical of its rationality.”

“No hypothetical justification can overcome the clear primary purpose and practical effect of the marriage bans … to disparage and demean the dignity of same-sex couples in the eyes of the state and the wider community,” Black wrote.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex weddings, up from six before the Supreme Court’s decision in June.

Also on Dec. 23, a federal judge in Utah allowed gay weddings to continue there, rejecting a request to put them on hold as the state appeals a decision that sent couples flocking to county clerks for marriage licenses.

Judge Robert Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage last Friday, ruling the voter-approved measure is a violation of gay couples’ constitutional rights.

New Mexico’s highest court also legalized gay marriage last week.