Thursday, March 29, 2012
Treatment Center Funding Announced
Capital outlay monies going to treatment facility. With so much negative press about capital outlay these years, here is an example that should be highlighted as excellent pork! It is surprising the Governor did not line item veto it. DFNM wrote a peice about this project back in September, follow this .
Huge kudos to Senator Michael Sanchez and the other Democrats who helped this project get passed and funded. Voting matters. Remember the "in again out again" republican Rep. David Chavez is challenging Senator Sanchez for his Valencia County seat. We must retain Senator Sanchez.
Press release in it's entirety:
The fight against substance abuse is getting much-needed financial assistance from the state thanks to two appropriations obtained during the recently completed legislative session. Senator Michael S. Sanchez (D-29-Valencia County) announced $5 million was included in the capital outlay bill for phase two construction of the Henry Perea Center for Wellness and Recovery in Los Lunas. Also, $750,000 was included in the general appropriations bill for operations of the program.
The Center is a multi-faceted program designed to be the state lead in treating persons from throughout New Mexico with the most severe disorders of addiction and mental illness, and those who have had frequent contact with the criminal justice system. The innovative program incorporates an emerging national trend to “treat not incarcerate”.
“Severe addictions and mental illness have caused devastating health, economic, educational, and social effects in communities throughout New Mexico. The Center is a positive and important step in breaking the cycle of substance abuse and subsequent criminal activities,” said Senator Sanchez. The Center currently provides out-patient substance abuse and mental health services to over 800 residents of Valencia County and that number is increasing by 90 new customers each month, according to Noel Clark, managing partner at the Center.
Clark noted, “Senator Sanchez’s effort will assist us in expanding this capacity to extend out-patient services to 125 new customers from throughout the state each month. The capital outlay funding will allow construction of a residential in-patient treatment facility for women and children. The new facility will give the unique opportunity for a mother to be with her children during her time in treatment. This treatment approach will help children bond or re-bond with their mother following a difficult time of family dysfunction due to substance abuse.” He added, “Senator Sanchez recognizes the negative impact substance abuse has on our communities and continues to champion efforts to attack this problem.”
Last year’s capital outlay bill included $5 million for the same project. However, a filibuster in the final hours of the legislative session effectively killed the bill and any chances for this project to begin. “It is unfortunate that this project had to wait a year,” said Senator Sanchez. “But we are pleased that phase two will soon move forward so that New Mexicans who are unable to get needed treatment in their own communities can be served by this facility.”
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Barbara Grothus Guest Blog: Los Alamos Burns - Just Say Now
This is a guest blog by Barbara Grothus, an artist and activist who supports the legalization of marijuana, among other progressive measures. She says, "I also support the DFNM blog, and I hope others will too by making a donation today!" (Click on the orange DONATE button on the upper left side of this page or use this direct link.)
I grew up in Los Alamos and spend a lot of time there now, taking care of my mother. I was meaning to write about the big fires then (2000) and now (2011). There are some interesting contrasts between the events. But I simply don’t have the time to spend on it.
Nevertheless, there is a story that I wish someone with the resources and skills could write. Basic facts about the 2011 fire: it was the largest fire in the history of the state of New Mexico, and for the first day it consumed one acre every 76 seconds. A fire moving that fast across the landscape does not consume everything, until it reaches a canyon, at which point it is sufficiently contained that it does burn, baby. It burns.
Frijoles Canyon in Bandelier National Monument is such a place. In 2011, it burned. Fire is always a bit capricious, and there are some areas in that canyon that managed to escape the conflagration. One such area happened to contain a farm with 9200 pot plants, 10 feet tall, essentially ready to harvest. The official estimate of the value of the crop (easily disputable, but let’s take them at their word) is $9.2 million. It has been reported that the farmers fought the fire; they burned a perimeter around the crop to protect it. If they had done this burn anytime before the fire was rapidly advancing, they would have been discovered, and they were not. This was a huge, fast-moving fire. They were absolutely brave in protecting that crop. The crop was saved, the farmers survived.
The farm was discovered by overhead surveillance after the fire, partly because there was some kind of a tarp visible amidst the green island where unburned forest also remained as before, visually protecting the crop. The area stood out because of the absolute black -- “like black paint” -- covering every surrounding surface, as one person described it to me.
The authorities report that they saw two men who returned to the site after the fire. The farmers were able to escape a sudden, multi-agency law-enforcement net. The canyon walls are reported to slant at 45 degrees, making it a steep hike in and out. At the site was some kind of a dugout shelter, a watering system, a rifle, a bottle of hot sauce and insecticide, with directions printed in Spanish. This leads them to believe (I know) that the farmers are part of the “Mexican drug cartel.”
This is the first time that a pot farm has been discovered in a National Forest in New Mexico. It was a large off-grid enterprise with few employees. That is a very big cash crop, even by half. It may not be the first year that the area was farmed. I am sure they are now reexamining past satellite footage.
I have talked to a variety of people about this story, and I am sure it would be compelling if someone could devote more time to it. When the National Lab was no longer “at risk,” the national media went away. But there is a story here. Just say Now.
This is a guest blog by Barbara Grothus. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the blog.
Friday, September 23, 2011
NM Senate Dems Urge Gov. Susana Martinez To Fund Drug Treatment Center
Just another example of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez putting politics before the pressing needs of New Mexicans? With the growing problem of meth, other illegal substances, and the re-emergence of heroin abuse -- especially among teenagers -- NM Senate Democrats say they are troubled that Governor Martinez did not include funding for a substance abuse treatment center in her list of capital outlay projects. "It's hard to understand the Governor's rationale for not considering this a statewide priority. The drug abuse problem will not get better until we get serious about fighting it," said Senate Majority Leader Michael S. Sanchez (D-Valencia-29) in a written statement.
Unfortunately, New Mexico has few treatment options currently available. Dem Senators point out that the 2011 regular session's capital outlay bill included $5 million for construction of phase 2 of the substance abuse treatment center -- the Henry Perea Center for Wellness and Recovery, in Los Lunas. However, the Governor that effectively killed the bill and any chances for the project to begin.
The Governor's refusal to fund this project in her current capital outlay request comes at a critical time. “Something has to be done now or we’ll lose generations to this killer that has already destroyed many lives,” said Stacey Johnston, Vice President of the group Tears of Strength and Support (TOSS).
The Center currently provides out-patient treatment but requires additional capital outlay money for construction of a dormitory that will allow in-patient treatment. The Center serves many people from across the state who are trapped by substance abuse and are unable to get needed treatment in their own communities.
"How many lives, young or old, must be lost before this administration finds the money to help these families?" asked Senator Sanchez. "The longer she fails to recognize the need for an in-patient treatment facility, the longer it will take to win the battle against this killer," he said. "I encourage the Governor to reconsider and include funding for the treatment center in her statewide capital outlay priorities."
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Guest Blog: Time to Break Taboo on Open Discussion About Drugs and Accidental Overdoses--Lives Are Literally Hanging in the Balance
This is a guest blog by Emily Kaltenbach, who is the New Mexico state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
August 31st marks International Overdose Awareness Day, a day for people in New Mexico and around the world to publicly mourn loved ones without guilt or shame. This day is also an occasion to educate policymakers and the public about the growing overdose crisis in New Mexico and beyond. It is time we offer concrete solutions that save lives.
Overdoses happen everywhere, to all kinds of people, and it's only been getting worse in recent years. Drug overdose is now the number one cause of accidental death for Americans between the ages of 35 and 54. In 17 states, it now surpasses car accidents as the leading overall cause of accidental death.
New Mexico has long grappled with overdose mortality rates far above the national average. Overdose deaths continue to rise -- the heroin overdose rate in 2008 was the second highest ever recorded and fatal overdoses from prescription opiates such as hydrocodone and oxycontin have surged alarmingly. Nor are our young people being spared from this epidemic as there has been an increase in the number of people 21 years and younger dying from overdoses.
This loss of life is completely unacceptable, in no small part because most of these deaths are so easily preventable. But the “tough-on-crime” rhetoric of the drug war and the stigma associated with illicit drug use have blocked the widespread adoption of simple, proven, life-saving policies.
In the face of this tragedy, however, New Mexico has become a leader in the struggle to prevent overdose fatalities. It became the first state in the nation to implement a 911 - Good Samaritan law in 2007 that provides people who call 911 on behalf of an overdose victim with limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession. Good Samaritan laws reduce reluctance to seek medical help when illegal drugs are involved, and thus save lives.
Our Department of Health has programs to educate the public about overdose risks, and trains first responders, law enforcement and members of the public how to recognize an overdose and respond using rescue techniques and the opiate antagonist medicine naloxone. This unheralded and inexpensive drug has been used by first responders for decades. Administered nasally, it can revive opiate overdose victims within minutes. These programs save lives while reducing hospitalization costs and relieving pressure on first responders and emergency rooms. More could and should be done, however, to expand the availability of naloxone. All too often, first responders are not called or cannot arrive in time.
Calling On New Mexico's Lawmakers
On this day of awareness and mourning, we ask New Mexico’s lawmakers to build upon the growing tradition in New Mexico of taking a proactive role in addressing the overdose crisis. We ask them to stand up and support policies designed to get us to a place where politics no longer trumps public health, science, or compassion. Policies that continue to support access to syringe exchange programs for all New Mexicans struggling with an addiction, including our youth. Policies to increase access to naloxone that has no abuse potential, and costs as little as one dollar for one dose. And, policies to explore the efficacy of safe injection sites and heroin prescription programs -- both of which are evidence-based life-saving interventions for individuals struggling with addiction to opioids when other treatments have not worked.
There is no question that innovative overdose prevention programs are needed and long overdue in this state. All that stands in the way is ideology and the cynical assumption that it can never happen in New Mexico.
This is a guest blog by Emily Kaltenbach. Also see her previous guest blog on the 40th anniversary of the war on drugs.
If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
8/10: Sen. Tom Udall to Chair Senate Field Hearing on DWI in ABQ
On Wednesday, August 10, Senator Tom Udall will chair a field hearing titled “Fighting Drunk Driving: Lessons Learned from New Mexico” from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM in Room 2404 at the University of New Mexico Law School located at 1117 Stanford Drive NE in Albuquerquea. Udall will convene an official Senate field hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, of which he is a member.
The hearing will include testimony from leaders and advocates on the history of DWI in New Mexico, its progress in reducing drunk driving, ongoing challenges, and potential solutions. The public is welcome to attend the hearing, but because this is an official Senate hearing, testimony will be limited to witnesses.
Because Sen. Udall believes public input is important, however, he invites interested parties to submit written comments that will be included in the official record of the hearing. Those interested in further instruction on submitting written comments for the record should contact Udall's Albuquerque office at 505-346-6791.
Witnesses at the hearing will include:
Panel I: New Mexico's Approach to Drunk Driving
- Mr. Ronald Medford, Deputy Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
- Mr. Michael R. Sandoval, Director, Traffic Safety Division, New Mexico Department of Transportation
Panel II: Strategies Employed in New Mexico to Combat Drunk Driving and Reduce Road Fatalities
- The Honorable Richard J. Berry, Mayor, City of Albuquerque, Albuquerque, NM
- Mr. Richard Williams, Chief of Police, Las Cruces Police Department
- Ms. Lora Lee Ortiz, Executive Director, Mothers Against Drunk Driving New Mexico
- Dr. Cameron Crandall, Associate Professor and Vice Chair for Research, University of New Mexico Hospital, University of New Mexico, Department of Emergency Medicine
Panel III: Emerging Technologies for Reducing the Rate of Drunk Driving
- Ms. Susan A. Ferguson, Ph.D., Program Manager, Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety
- Mr. David Culver, Vice President, Government Relations, Distilled Spirits Council DISCUS
Personally, I'm disappointed that it appears little or no attention will be paid to alcoholism as an addictive disease or to integrating treatment options into the discussion of possible ways to reduce drunken driving. I think much could also be done in terms of educating the public, and particularly youth, about the disease of alcoholism, the availability of treatments for addiction and the facts about alcohol impairment and responsible drinking.
As New Mexico’s Attorney General, Udall made fighting DWI a priority and worked with the Legislature to enact tougher laws against offenders. In both the House and Senate, Udall has championed efforts to increase enforcement, improve public awareness, and build on proven methods for DWI prevention, like ignition interlocks and other emerging prevention technologies.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Emily Kaltenbach: The War on Drugs Turns 40
This is a guest blog by Emily Kaltenbach who is the New Mexico state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration or reflection, others a time for action. Today marks forty years since President Richard Nixon, citing drug abuse as “public enemy No. 1”, officially declared a "war on drugs." A trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, the war on drugs remains a miserable failure.
The Land of Enchantment has not been spared. Local headlines tell us that the war on drugs continues to threaten New Mexicans’ health and safety.
“Friend Abandons Toddler After Mom Overdoses”
“New Mexico Family Loses Relative to Juarez Violence”
“Overdose Deaths Among People Under 21 Increasing”
“Medicaid Axes Inpatient Program for Drug-addicted Mothers”
“Martinez Has High Hopes for Repeal of Medical Marijuana”
On this anniversary, it’s time to reflect on why New Mexico’s overdose death rate has increased 150% in the last 4 years; why the state is spending upwards of 22 million dollars each year to incarcerate nonviolent drug possession offenders; and, why we are incarcerating our mothers because of their addictions who then leave behind hundreds of babies and young children. It’s time to admit that the war on drugs is a failure and agree to turn instead to dealing with drugs as a public health problem. Wouldn’t it be better to spend the money on clinics that might treat illnesses instead of on locking up nonviolent people?
We know a lot more things than we did 40 years ago, and it’s time to revise our strategies for combating drug misuse based on that knowledge. We know that 4 out of 5 drug arrests are for possession only, mostly for marijuana. We know that the average cost of putting someone behind bars is about $30,000 a year, whereas the average cost of treating them is about $3,000. And we know that most communities in New Mexico lack access to quality drug treatment.
A New Drug Strategy for 21st Century
So let’s celebrate this anniversary by crafting a new drug strategy for the 21st century. A strategy designed to get us to a place where politics no longer trumps science, compassion, common sense, and fiscal prudence in dealing with illegal drugs. A place when marijuana legalization is no longer a question of whether but when and how. A place when people are not more likely to be arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated for violating drug laws because of their ethnicity and culture. And a time where reducing over-incarceration is broadly embraced as a moral necessity.
Let’s work with legislators who dare to raise these important questions. Let’s organize public forums and online communities where New Mexicans can take action, enlist unprecedented numbers of powerful and distinguished individuals to voice their dissent publicly, and advocate for policies that focus less on obtaining convictions and more on preventing addictions.
Let’s transform this anniversary into a year of action.
This is a guest blog by Emily Kaltenbach. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Bingaman, Udall Sponsor Bill to Increase NM's District Court Judgeships
Yesterday, Senator Jeff Bingaman introduced legislation to increase the number of District Court judgeships in New Mexico to help the state deal with its heavy caseload. The bill is cosponsored by Senator Tom Udall, and would authorize new District Court judgeships for the southwest border states based on made by the Judicial Conference of the Federal Courts, which makes policy decisions for the U.S. courts.
Under the bill, New Mexico would receive an additional permanent judgeship, allow for the conversion of an existing temporary judgeship to permanent and add a temporary judgeship. There are currently seven authorized judgeships for the district of New Mexico.
“Over the last five years, we have significantly increased the number of Border Patrol agents, hired additional prosecutors and enhanced the presence of DEA, FBI and U.S. Marshal Agents throughout the border region. While this has greatly improved security in the border region, it has also put enormous pressure on the federal courts in handling the influx of cases,” Bingaman said.
“It is critical that the federal judiciary has the resources and manpower it needs to dispose of cases in a timely manner and this bill would help District Courts in the southwest border states deal with this burden,” Bingaman concluded.
“Additional resources for border patrol enforcement in New Mexico have increasingly meant higher case loads for our federal courts. This legislation would help ease that pressure by providing the manpower necessary to adjudicate cases in a timely manner that ensures justice for all involved,” Udall said.
The breakdown for the three other south border states would be as follows:
New Permanent Judgeship (P), New Temporary Judgeship (T), Conversion of Existing Temporary Judgeship to Permanent (T/P)
(4P, 1T, T/P)
Northern (4P, 1T)
Eastern (6P, 1T)
Central (8P, 1T, T/P)
Southern (2P, 1T)
Eastern (1P, T/P)
Western (4P, 1T)
Monday, May 09, 2011
Borderland Residents Speak Out Against Violence in Mesilla
Contributing writer Stephen Jones checks in with more on-the-ground coverage from Southern New Mexico.
A large and emotional gathering of people from the borderland community joined together on Sunday at the Mesilla Community Center to show solidarity with marches scheduled for this week in Mexico against the drug war and violence south of the border. The event was sponsored by the Comite Amigos de Emilio, a borderlands community organization that supports granting asylum in the United States for exiled journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto.
Ella Nelson of Las Cruces, the organizer, said the event and the committee's goal was to bring greater attention to the case of Gutiérrez and other victims of Mexico's bloodshed. The committee aims to put pressure on U.S. immigration authorities and Mexican officials, and demand action on Gutiérrez's and other asylum-seekers' human rights complaints.
The emotionally charged gathering was keynoted by Mexican journalists Emilio Gutiérrez and Ricardo Chavez Aldana. Both men have been victims of the violence in Mexico and are seeking political asylum in the United States. Gutiérrez fled his town of Ascención, Chihuahua, in 2008 after writing a series of articles criticizing the Mexican army and receiving death threats from the military. Ricardo Chavez Aldana is a radio reporter from Juarez who received death threats and lost several family members who were murdered after he spoke out against the violence on the air in Mexico.
Calling for peace and justice for Mexico, Gutiérrez laid the blame for the violence south of the border on the complicity of the Mexican military and the Calderon government, which he termed "illegitimate," rather than just on any outlaw cartel. "Because of the government policies, over 45,000 innocent people have died," Gutiérrez said. "There are at least 15,000 'disappeared' people, among them 68 journalists."
"How many mother's have lost their children? How many children have been left orphaned? How many more are living in exile?" he asked. "It's a huge pain that we carry inside of us every day. The most painful thing about all this, for me, is the loss of my home and country," Gutiérrez said, "more sorrowful for me than the loss of my parents."
Gutiérrez fled Mexico after receiving death threats from the military. A month earlier, more than fifty military personnel overran and illegally ransacked his home after he spoke out in the press against the violence. After fleeing Mexico with his son, Gutiérrez was detained for seven months by U.S. Immigration when he arrived at the border seeking asylum last June. He is currently staying in Las Cruces while his case is pending in the courts.
Ricardo Chavez Aldana, a radio newsman who is also living in exile, also addressed the rally. Chavez Aldana's nephews were murdered after he spoke out on the radio against the violence in Juarez and criticized the military. "Juarez is a dead city," he said. "Four of every five businesses have closed down, and we see blood everywhere."
Ruben Garcia, the Director of Annunciation House, a shelter in El Paso, recounted the stories of some of those who have sought refuge in his facility, including a mother who has lost four of her five children. "There is a mistaken idea in most of America, promoted by politicians, that one place end and another one begins at a certain line. We need to be mindful of role that the drug trade in America is having on Mexico" Garcia said. "I've heard these stories many times. Im sorry for being emotional" said a tearful Ella Nelson, "but on this Mother's Day, I hope we will take a moment to think about the mothers who have lost their families in this crisis."
For more posts by Stephen Jones, visit our archive.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Young Women United: Urge Gov. Martinez to Change the Landscape with Treatment Not Incarceration
This is a guest blog by Adriann Barboa and Micaela Cadena of Young Women United.
As people who work with young women in Albuquerque every day, we are intimately familiar with the landscape of addiction -- its twisting curves, jagged peaks, and endless valleys. In many ways, addiction is the white noise we hear at night, and the background music playing in our earphones by day. It is everywhere.
What does it mean to live in a state where you are more likely to be impacted by addiction than you are to earn a living wage or to graduate from college? It means that virtually every person we know who was born and raised here has a story to tell, about how substance use impacted their lives: their own struggles with drugs, or the struggles of their parents, siblings, partners and friends. Weekly, we hear stories of custody struggles, sexual violence, poverty, and death. But we also hear stories of hope, healing, unity and recovery.
As the economic crisis digs in, day-to-day struggles are getting worse. Often exacerbated by other stresses, we know substance abuse is generational, contagious, and tenacious. Once it has taken root in a family, neighborhood or town it is hard to remove. But we also know that with quality treatment, it is possible to break free.
Last week, the New Mexico legislature passed four bills that could expand access to substance use treatment. Taken together, Senate Bill 232, Senate Bill 321, Senate Bill 354, and Senate Bill 451 will dramatically improve the chances that a person struggling with addiction will be able to access treatment.
Right now, in New Mexico, if you are a substance user and come into contact with the legal system, the only bed you are likely to get is in a jail cell. There is a lack of space in treatment centers, and no incentive, structure or support for judges to get you there. If you are pregnant or a mother, your chances of accessing quality treatment are even worse. Women who are pregnant and seeking help fear prosecution and often don’t reach out. Mothers know they run the risk of losing their children, and often try to get clean on their own, rarely succeeding.
One woman who has thrived in recovery recently told us, “I was in and out of jail for years. I went into jail broken and lost, and came out of jail broken and lost. Finally, I went into treatment and now I feel whole. I can do better for myself, and I want better for myself.”
Now is our chance. If Governor Susana Martinez signs these bills, she can save lives. By making quality treatment accessible, Governor Martinez can unclog the courts and make our communities more vibrant and beautiful. She can make real her promise of “bringing bold change and a brighter future to New Mexico families.”
Right now, sitting on Governor Martinez’s desk are four bills that would do that. , and help change our landscape.
Adriann Barboa and Micaela Cadena lead Young Women United in Albuquerque, where they each live with their children. Both were born and raised in New Mexico.
If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Photo credit: Young Women United.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Rep. Maestas Applauds Senate Passage of Drug Treatment Bill, House Next Up
The New Mexico Senate voted 21-3 on Friday to pass drug treatment legislation originally proposed by Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas (D-Albuquerque). Senate Bill 321, sponsored on the Senate side by Sen. Richard Martinez (D-Espanola), enacts the “Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act” to provide substance abuse treatment instead of jail time for persons charged with certain substance abuse offenses. SB 321 now moves to the full House, where Rep. Maestas says he will fight to secure its passage. Let's hope the House acts quickly, as this legislative session is scheduled to end at noon on March 19.
I've been a fan of this bill since Rep. Maestas first introduced it as HB 178 during last year's legislative session. That time out, the bill was passed in the House by a margin of 34-31, and in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 8-2 vote, but time ran out before it made it to the Senate floor.
"We must be smart in the fight against crime by holding people accountable and attacking crime head on," Rep. Maestas said. "Treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent drug offenders is cost effective and confronts the root cause of the crime- addiction."
Monday, February 21, 2011
2/22: Rep. Ben Ray Lujan Substance Abuse Prevention Community Workshop
Congressman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico’s Third District is hosting a Substance Abuse Prevention Community Workshop on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM at the Multi-Purpose Room at Pablo Roybal Elementary School, 1574 State Road 502, in Santa Fe. The workshop will build on the Drug Summit that Luján convened last year, where treatment providers, federal agencies, community leaders, and law enforcement discussed how to fight substance abuse.
Tomorrow’s workshop, which is open to the public, will bring together families, youth and community organizations to discuss substance abuse prevention and community collaboration. The workshop will provide participants with educational material to learn about the signs and symptoms of drug use, preventive measures, and available resources to obtain treatment for drug use.
Presenters at the workshop will include Congressman Luján; Jennifer Weiss, Heroin Awareness Committee; Frank G. Margourilos, New Mexico Prevention Network; and Anamaria Armijo-Glenn, New Mexico Drug Endangered Children Alliance.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
ACLU-NM Sues Border Patrol for Firing Agent Due to Political Views
Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) issued a statement announcing it has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on behalf of a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent who was fired because of his personal political opinions (see pdf of complaint). Plaintiff Bryan Gonzalez was an agent with two years of experience and excellent performance reviews when the Border Patrol terminated his employment after learning that Gonzalez held certain political opinions pertaining to drug legalization and immigration.
"Firing a public servant because of their political opinions is an egregious violation of the First Amendment," said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson in a written statement. "We cannot require nor should we expect uniformity of thought within our law enforcement institutions. Purging the ranks of government employees who fail "ideological purity" tests is about as un-American as it gets."
ACLU-NM described the facts of the case this way: Patrolling near Deming, New Mexico in April 2009, Gonzalez pulled his vehicle up next to a fellow CBP agent who was in the same vicinity. In the course of a casual discussion concerning the drug-related violence in Mexico, Gonzales remarked that he believed that legalization of drugs would be the most effective way to end the violence. He also related to the other agent that, as a former dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, he understood the economic factors that drive migrants to cross the border without documentation to seek work.
Word of Gonzalez's opinions on these matters quickly spread to his supervisor, who informed the Joint Intake Command in Washington, D.C. Internal Affairs launched an investigation soon after, and the Border Patrol terminated Gonzalez in October 2009, just weeks before his probationary period expired. The termination letter stated that Gonzalez held "personal views that were contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication, and esprit de corps."
"I was terminated not because my service was inadequate, but because I hold certain opinions that are shared by millions of my fellow Americans," said Gonzalez in a written statement. "I am no less patriotic or dedicated to excellence in my work because I respectfully disagree with some of our current border enforcement policies. It was wrong for the U.S. Border Patrol to retaliate against me for exercising my free speech rights guaranteed by the very Constitution I swore to uphold."
ACLU-NM seeks a declaration by the court that the Border Patrol violated Bryan Gonzalez's First Amendment right to free speech, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
ACLU-NM Cooperating Attorney George Bach and ACLU-NM Co-legal Directors Julie Sakura and Reber Boult represent the plaintiff in this case.