How private immigration detention is harming New Mexico

Jovanny Hernandez
Southern NM Field Organizer, NM Dream Team

In the early 1990s, my grandmother brought her family - my uncles and my mother, who were all children - to the United States by themselves. They endured treacherous conditions, crossing deserts and hiding from law enforcement, all while putting their faith in “coyotes”. They faced extreme temperatures and suffered immensely, carrying their struggles and traumas with them. Eventually, they made it to New Mexico, only to be rounded up by Customs and Border Patrol Agents and detained at an immigration detention center. Once in detention, my family experienced cruel treatment from Border Patrol Officers, physical abuse inflicted on my uncles, all children at the time, invasive searches, and then illegal biometric data gathering of my mother and her brothers. Sadly, my family's experience is not unique. Immigrant families and individuals have long faced danger and fear as a result of the immigration system at large, created by lawmakers and corporate interests at the national level. The private detention industrial complex has thrived, thanks in part to the explicit and tacit consent of New Mexico politicians and private prison backers.

During the recent 2023 Legislative Session, lawmakers from across the state had the opportunity to pass Senate Bill 172 (SB172), a bill that would have prevented local governments from entering into or renewing contracts with the three private detention centers that currently exist in New Mexico. This bill was the hope of the many directly affected people who lobbied the New Mexico Legislature, sharing their stories and those of their families, some of whom live in communities where these detention centers cast a massive shadow on their lives. The goal was to force the state and local lawmakers to imaginatively and equitably reconsider new economic opportunities that don't rely on the incarceration of immigrants, particularly those with brown and black bodies, by ending these contracts.

Unfortunately, SB 172 failed on the New Mexico Senate Chamber Floor with a close vote of 18-20. Many Senators chose to side with a racist, xenophobic, greedy, and ultimately exploitative system. However, while I am disappointed, I am not disillusioned. Despite politicians and corporations perpetuating a climate of fear, abuse, family separation, and trauma for immigrants, my community knows that we have never been given a fair shake. But we are not giving up.

We must continue to be loud and demand that our politicians listen to us, their constituents, and end private immigrant detention in New Mexico. This is not just a moral issue; it is an economic one as well. New Mexico and its counties have been profiting off the incarceration of immigrants for far too long. It's time to imagine new economic opportunities that are just and equitable for all, and that don't rely on exploiting vulnerable populations.

As a society, we must do better. We must end private immigrant detention in New Mexico, and we must demand that our politicians represent the interests of their constituents and not the interests of detention corporations. This is a moment for us to imagine a new New Mexico - one that is truly just and equitable and safe for all, regardless of where they come from or what they look like.

Jovanny Hernandez is the Southern NM Field Organizer for the NM Dream Team andDignity Not Detention NM Coalition.