We are witnessing scenes play out on the streets of Portland, Oregon that have no place in our democratic society. Unmarked federal agents — equipped like anonymous storm troopers — have been deployed against peaceful demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights of assembly and free speech under our First Amendment. We must condemn this gross abuse of federal law enforcement in the strongest possible terms and demand answers and accountability from this administration.
The violent scenes that we have seen play out in Portland — and in Downtown Washington, DC before that — have left many Americans shaken and understandably worried about the prospect of agents in President Trump’s federal law enforcement agencies being unlawfully used as a shadowy paramilitary force in their communities.
Given that context, you can imagine my horror when I first saw media reports of the administration targeting Albuquerque, New Mexico as one of the next cities in which to deploy federal agents. I immediately spoke to the U.S. Attorney from the District of New Mexico to demand answers because no notification had been delivered to me or to my office. The same appears to be the case for the Mayor of Albuquerque, the Police Chief in Albuquerque, the Governor of New Mexico, and the District Attorney in Albuquerque.
Yesterday, President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr announced that they are sending 35 federal agents to Albuquerque. I remain appalled and deeply disappointed that Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales III came to Washington to play along with President Trump’s political games and demonization of our communities. But the real story of how this whole mess has played out is in the total lack of coordination and cooperation with officials in Albuquerque.
If this were truly a good faith effort to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with state and local partners to address violent crime, as the President claims, you would think they would have let their state and local partners know about it before the announcement.
When I spoke with the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico earlier this week, I let him know in no uncertain terms that we will not accept a Portland-style federal presence in New Mexico. The only legitimate path forward for this White House operation, within the bounds of our Constitution, is a written agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of Albuquerque that clearly sets the parameters and guardrails for any federal presence.
I am also joining Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon in introducing and calling for an immediate vote on the Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act to block the Trump administration from deploying federal law enforcement over the objection of state and local leaders.
While Attorney General Barr claimed during yesterday’s press conference that this operation is nothing more than “classic crime fighting” and wholly different from what we saw play out in Portland over the weekend, I believe a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted.
President Reagan famously said, “Trust, but verify.” However, trust is earned. The Trump White House has not given us any reason to trust them at their word.
This is the same White House, after all, that claimed they were not separating children from their parents at the border. This is the same administration that claims to look out for Americans with pre-existing conditions while actively pursuing a federal lawsuit to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act and rip away health care coverage from millions of Americans. This is the same president who threatened the security of one of our key allies, Ukraine, in order to undermine our very democracy.
As a former Albuquerque City Councilor and as an even longer time Albuquerque resident, I am well aware that our city needs to do more to address crime and gun violence. I am also fully on board with using appropriate, constitutional federal resources to help our mayor, our city council, our local law enforcement, and our community address this problem.
But that is not what Donald Trump is proposing. At best, this is a desperate campaign stunt with the presidential election mere months away. At worst, it is a dangerous abuse of the federal government’s law enforcement authority meant to intimidate Americans by stirring up fear and instigating violence.
Let’s be serious, the President isn’t sending elite federal agents to Albuquerque, or to Portland, or to Chicago or Kansas City, to help us address violent crime or the number of guns on our streets. Even if he was, sending 35 federal agents to Albuquerque is a woefully inadequate and totally ineffective way to address those issues. This is all about President Trump’s struggling campaign poll numbers and his attempt to distract us all from his failed leadership on COVID-19 and the economy.
Just yesterday, because of a shortage of testing supplies, hospitals in New Mexico had reduce their eligibility requirements for COVID-19 diagnostic tests. More than four months into a pandemic, the glaring failure of President Trump to create and implement a federally-coordinated supply chain for testing is still making the spread of this deadly virus all across our country so much worse than it needs to be. And that is to say nothing about the White House and Senate Republicans’ continued refusal to take the major action we need to pass new economic relief and public health measures.
There are so many pressing matters that the President and those of us in the Senate urgently need to address. Millions of out-of-work Americans will see their unemployment insurance run out if Congress does not act by the end of this month. Small business owners are struggling to survive. Tribal nations and rural communities in New Mexico desperately need funding assistance to stay financially afloat. With the election mere months away, we need to pass funding to ensure Americans will be able to safely cast their ballots without fearing for their health.
Instead of focusing on that essential work, the President is wasting his valuable time and misusing the powers of his office to threaten the safety of communities like Albuquerque, New Mexico.
We must rein in this President’s abuse of federal law enforcement.
I say this as someone whose father’s family fled Germany in the 1930s, I say this as a United States Senator who swore an oath to uphold and defend our Constitution, and I say this as a proud New Mexican and as a patriotic American: Not on my watch.