Bill to establish "Missing in New Mexico" event passes, moves to governor's desk

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A bill to establish a "missing in New Mexico" event is advancing to the governor's desk after state representatives passed it on Feb. 14.

The bill proposes holding the annual event to help connect New Mexico families of missing persons with federal, state, local and tribal agencies and resources.

Additionally, it calls for creating a clearinghouse within the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to centralize missing person information and promote communication among government agencies.

"This genuinely helps Indigenous people and those who are missing, their family members work with law enforcement – those around the state – to have a commemorative day where they can bring forth that information," Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, who helped sponsor the bill, said on Feb. 14 before the House of Representatives.

A red handprint indicating solidarity with missing and murdered Indigenous women is shown on Christelle Tsosie's face on May 5, 2021 during the MMIW Memorial Honor Walk in Shiprock. May 5 was declared "Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day" by President Joe Biden that year.

The bill is a product of the New Mexico Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force, which has been assessing the issue since 2019 and determining how to increase state resources for reporting and identifying victims.

While the exact number nationwide of cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls remains unknown, several states have developed task forces in recent years to assess the crisis.

The U.S. Department of Justice reported that Native Americans and Alaska Natives are two and a half times more likely to experience violent crimes and at least two times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault crimes in comparison to all other ethnicities.

Lil Miss Northern Navajo JaiLissa Begay carries a sign while walking along U.S. Highway 64 in Shiprock to help raise awareness on May 23, 2019 about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

"This is truly a big work of those who have been doing this since 2019 when this began and I'm really grateful to have this moment," Romero said before representatives voted 63-0 to pass the bill without debate.

The measure received approval by the Senate on Jan. 28.

"The MMIWR crisis has impacted too many of our Indian families and communities," Indian Affairs Department Secretary Lynn Trujillo said in a statement. "Through the task force, we hear from families about the challenges they face in working with multiple jurisdictions and getting information on their loved one's case. The Missing in NM Day will bring all parties together so that families have one place to go to get answers and provide information to law enforcement."

New Mexico has 926 active missing persons cases and 20 unidentified missing persons in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, the department stated in a news release.

Marchers walk down San Juan Boulevard near Berg Park in Farmington on Nov. 13, 2021 during a walk and memorial for missing and murdered indigenous people.

Another Senate bill geared toward addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people passed the Senate on the same day.

Senate Bill 12 would create an office in the New Mexico Attorney General's Office to help address missing Indigenous persons cases.

"Senate bills 12 and 13 will help unite communities in providing better access to the resources needed to help solve these crimes and bring justice to families," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-Tohatchi, said. "Let us remain focused as the opportunity to spread awareness for action continues."

It has been sent to the House for consideration. The legislative session ends at noon on Feb. 17.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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