New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday signed legislation aimed at ensuring more effective coordination among law enforcement when dealing with cases involving missing or killed Native American women.
Along with creating a new position in the state attorney general’s office that will focus on cases involving missing Indigenous victims, the measures will boost data collection and education and provide grants to improve reporting. missing persons cases.
A large group of family members whose loved ones have gone missing or been killed flanked the governor as she pulled out a special pen and signed the legislation in a moving ceremony at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
Lujan Grisham shared a long hug with those close to Shawna Toya as tears flowed. Toya, a mother of four from Jemez Pueblo, was found dead last year in Albuquerque, and her family is pushing authorities to reopen her case. They said his death had turned their lives upside down.
Lujan Grisham said the signing of the bills should be seen as a declaration that the state is ready to do the work necessary to bring justice to the families of the victims and prevent future tragedies.
“Not one more drama. Not one more family has been torn apart. Not one more excuse as to why it is difficult – especially in Indigenous communities – to do good for women, their families and all missing, murdered and at-risk people,” the governor promised.
Supporters say the efforts will help unite communities by providing greater access to the resources needed to help solve potential crimes and find answers for families.
The Legislative Assembly has allocated $1 million to hire and train one or more specialists and an additional $1 million to set up an online portal for electronic cataloging of people’s cases. disappeared.
The New Mexico Department of Indian Affairs cited jurisdictional issues as one of the obstacles to resolving the missing and killed Native American crisis. The agency noted that in New Mexico there are more than 100 law enforcement agencies, more than a dozen prosecuting entities and 23 sovereign tribes.
In some parts of the state, officials said the jurisdictional checkerboard was affecting response time, investigations and prosecutions in missing Indigenous people cases. They said coordination and oversight were needed to improve outcomes for Native Americans.
A related bill signed by Lujan Grisham creates an annual “New Mexico Missing Event” where federal, state, local and tribal governments will come together to help families file missing persons reports. Families could also update missing persons reports, submit DNA records or meet with investigators.
As of January, there were 946 active missing persons and 20 unidentified persons reported across New Mexico to the National Crime Information Center. However, advocates have long argued that the total number of Aboriginal people missing or killed is unknown, in part because federal databases do not contain complete information.
A report by the Urban Indian Health Institute found there were more than 5,700 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in 2016, but only 116 of those cases were recorded in a US Department database. of Justice. The study was limited in scope, however, as it reflected data from 71 US cities not located on tribal land. Albuquerque was not one of those cities.
The changes in New Mexico come amid increased efforts to resolve the crisis at the state and federal levels. Other states, including California, Oregon and Washington, have approved studies on the issue or more funding for tribes.
Prior to the signing of the bill, a minute of silence was observed by the crowd to honor those who are missing or who have been killed. Some of their names were read aloud as family members held photos of loved ones and signs calling for justice.
Attorney General Hector Balderas said there were special agents in his office ready to take on the new charge and that his office had met with the FBI to move forward. He acknowledged that the families present on Thursday have lived through a tragic and painful journey and that the state is ready to walk with them.
“It’s a day of hope,” he told them.
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