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New Mexico Legislature rejects ban in immigration detention

Otero County Processing Center

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico legislators rejected a proposal Tuesday to prohibit state and local government agencies from contracting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants as they seek asylum in the U.S.

The bill failed on a 17-21 vote of the state Senate. It also would have phased out local government participation in three-way agreements with private detention facilities and federal authorities.

The bill held implications for three privately operated detention facilities in New Mexico — and would have effectively ended migrant detention in early 2025 at the privately operated Otero County Processing Center at Chaparral in southern New Mexico on the outskirts of El Paso, Texas.

Legislatures in Colorado and New York are considering similar bills that would restrict local government contracts with federal immigration authorities or with private contractors through intergovernmental service agreements.

Proponents of the New Mexico bill highlighted reports of prison-like discipline, poor sanitation and suicide attempts at immigrant detention facilities, urging lawmakers to take action on humanitarian grounds.

“We’re talking here about those immigrants who’ve come into the country in accordance with our laws and applied for asylum,” said Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque, cosponsor of the bill. “We found that many of them ... are being detained under conditions that are far from adequate.”

During debate, Republican senators downplayed the severity of living conditions at the Otero County migrant detention center run by Utah-based Management & Training Corporation and said that terminating the government contract there would deliver a serious financial blow to the community.

Republican state Sen. Ron Griggs, whose district includes the Otero County Processing Center, said Otero County borrowed money to build the migrant processing and detention center in 2007, hoping to eventually pay off bonds and create an enduring source of revenue to support public services.

He called the bill a “direct attack on facilities in some of our poorer rural areas.”

The Otero County Processing Center typically holds about 600 male and female migrants.

Five Democratic senators joined with Republicans to defeat the bill. Four other Democratic senators were excused or absent from the vote.

Griggs also argued that a local detention ban in New Mexico wouldn't necessarily improve conditions for migrants who wind up at detention centers in other states awaiting asylum proceedings.

Jazmin Irazoqui-Ruiz, senior attorney with New Mexico Immigration Law Center, disputed that and said migrants might be released out of cost considerations to live temporarily with relatives or other sponsors, or find themselves transferred to states such as Colorado that take a different approach by underwriting legal representation for indigent immigrants.

In recent years, California, Illinois and New Jersey have enacted legislation aimed at reining in migrant detention centers within their territory.