Over the past few months, the resiliency and strength of communities all across New Mexico have been in full view as people come together to support each other through the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the pandemic has caused disproportionate harm to communities of color, worsening disparities in health and economic well-being. Just as public policies entrenched systemic racism, they can be used to dismantle it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the brutal truth that the economic divide between the haves and have-nots – caused by centuries of discrimination and enshrined in unfettered capitalism – is not simply a quality-of-life matter. It is, in fact, a matter of life and death.
Even with social distancing, the coronavirus pandemic has made it clear how interconnected we all are – that the health of an entire community is dependent on the health of each of its members. For the community to be healthy, everyone must have access to health care, shelter, and nutritious food.
Despite numerous challenges, including counterproductive federal policies and now a global pandemic, New Mexico policy-makers and local non-profit organizations are working together to make sure all New Mexicans are counted during the 2020 Census.
The decision in the Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit was a watershed moment for the state of New Mexico, allowing us to finally address the chronic under-funding of our public schools and to tailor them to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of our children. And while the Legislature did provide more money for the system, they failed to meet the judge's order.
This revision is not acceptable, it targets immigrant families who are already residing legally in the United States, and it does not reflect America’s historical tradition of welcoming those seeking to make a better life. But there is still time stop this rule from being implemented.
Several bills were passed during the 2019 legislative session that should improve family economic security. Because these bills were targeted to help families earning low and moderate incomes – and because workers of color and women are disproportionately represented in those wage groups – the bills should also improve equity by helping to ensure that we all have access to the opportunities that help us reach our potential.
Given New Mexico’s substantial immigrant population and that group’s important contributions to our state – which includes paying taxes – it is essential that we enact policies that promote opportunity for all families. During the 2019 New Mexico legislative session, lawmakers passed several bills that will have broad benefits to immigrants, their families, and the state as a whole.
Higher education is one of the most powerful engines of social mobility. Our economy and families thrive, and our future is brighter, when we make adequate, strategic investments in our public universities and colleges and ensure that they are accessible for all youth. But New Mexico has underfunded its public higher education institutions for years, and tuition has increased as a result. New Mexicans of color are among those who are hit the hardest by these budget choices.
Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by incarceration even though studies show they commit crimes at similar rates to whites. African Americans in New Mexico are more than six times likelier to be incarcerated as whites and Hispanics are about two times likelier. Women who are mothers are also disproportionately represented. The overall inequity in our justice system has dire consequences for the health and well-being of our families.