by Damien Willis , Las Cruces Sun-News
December 14, 2016

LAS CRUCES – The Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education on Tuesday passed two memorials calling for action on comprehensive background checks for those seeking to purchase a gun and asking for the creation of a task force to examine the impact of declaring Las Cruces a sanctuary city.

Both measures passed unanimously, 5-0.

The first requests the New Mexico state Legislature convene a panel of experts to study potential changes to state gun laws to “address the means by which firearms are purchased or transferred in the State of New Mexico in order to ensure the safety and well-being of school-age children.” It mirrors a similar resolution passed by Las Cruces City Council in July.

Board members specifically requested the task force include members from:

  • The New Mexico School Boards Association
  • The New Mexico Legislative Education Study Committee
  • New Mexico Voices for Children
  • Pegasus legal services for children
  • The New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders
  • The New Mexico Parent Teacher Organization
  • The New Mexico Chapter of the National Education Association
  • The Albuquerque Federation of Teachers
  • The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department
  • Representatives from the Human Resources Department
  • The children’s court
  • The New Mexico Public Education Department
  • The Office of the Attorney General
  • And two members from the general public

The second memorial calls upon a similar task force to be formed to study and “recommend consistent policy language that can be used by the City (of Las Cruces), (Doña Ana) County, and public schools in the creation of ‘sanctuary status’ for residents and students.”

 So-called “sanctuary cities” are localities that restrict their police agencies’ involvement in enforcing federal immigration laws. There’s no fixed, legal definition of a sanctuary city or county, according to recent Sun-News reporting on the topic.

Various maps purporting to list such sanctuary areas sometimes include Doña Ana County and sometimes don’t. The city of Las Cruces usually doesn’t appear. But generally the term attempts to label communities that are the least amenable to carrying out enforcement of federal immigration statutes.

The memorial follows a September 2014 resolution by the Doña Ana County Commission establishing the county as a “Safe Community for All Residents.” That measure passed unanimously, 5-0.

The school board has called for the task for to include representation from:

  • The Las Cruces City Council
  • The Doña Ana County Commission
  • The mayor of Las Cruces
  • The Doña Ana County manager
  • The Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education
  • The Gadsden Independent School District
  • The Hatch Valley School District
  • Ngage New Mexico
  • Somos Un Pueblo Unido
  • CAFé
  • Legislators from Doña Ana County
  • And two members from the general public

Board President Maria Flores praised President Barack Obama’s executive orders providing deportation relief: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects undocumented immigrants who enter the United States before their 16th birthday, and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, providing deportation relief for undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Flores acknowledged that the memorials were non-binding, but said it is important that the board let the public know the board’s stance.

“I think it’s important to let people know we are thinking about it, and we’re keeping our students and our families — we’re looking out for their safety,” Flores said.

Superintendent Greg Ewing stressed that the district does not collect any documentation pertaining to students’ immigration status and is prohibited from asking.

“There is a Supreme Court ruling, Plyler v. Doe, which actually prohibits us from refusing services to students based on their immigration status,” Ewing told the board. “As teachers, collectively, we are only concerned with educating students who come in front of us. And so I say to the board, we pledge to continue educating students who come in front of us.”

The board has requested the gun task force recommend concrete policy changes to the New Mexico Legislature through an appropriate interim committee no later than November 2017. The board asked that the task force on sanctuary cities report its findings to a joint work session of the public schools, the county commission and city council by May 2017.

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