- Associated Press - Friday, March 10, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday ordered the corrections department to work with federal authorities on checking the immigration status of inmates serving time in the state’s prisons.

The governor’s office said the administration of President Donald Trump asked New Mexico for permission to interview prisoners who were born in foreign countries.

The interviews by federal authorities are intended at expediting potential deportation proceedings for those suspected of living in the country illegally, said Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan.

“This is a matter of public safety, as these are all convicted criminals, many of a violent nature,” Lonergan said.

Immigrant inmates determined by federal authorities to be in the country illegally will be deported promptly after finishing their sentences, Lonergan said.

Martinez issued the directive after the Trump administration two weeks ago requested a list of inmates who were born in other countries. The corrections department has since provided U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a list of foreign-born inmates and their convictions, which range from first-degree murder and rape to credit card fraud. Many on the list are from Mexico while a few are from the Middle East.

Corrections Department spokesman S.U. Mahesh said the agency has identified 124 foreign-born inmates. He said the department does not ask inmates about their immigration status but that it does allow any investigative law enforcement agency to interview prisoners.

“It’s up to the inmates if they want to speak or not,” he said.

The Santa Fe-based immigrant rights advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido said in a statement it did not believe the announcement changed policy.

The corrections department “continues to tax an already overburdened criminal justice system and diverts scarce state resources to the enforcement of a broken immigration system,” the group said.

The corrections department oversees 11 state- and privately-operated prisons with about 7,300 inmates.

The governor’s directive comes as the Democratic-controlled New Mexico Legislature debates a measure to ban state agencies from cooperating with the Trump administration on immigration enforcement.

Some Democrats want to keep New Mexico law enforcement from participating in efforts to enforce federal immigration law.

Martinez’s order comes as immigrant communities are anxious about the federal government’s stepped-up efforts to address illegal immigration and Trump’s revised executive order temporarily banning travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at https://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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