NMSU Has Lost More Than 130 Professors in 13 Years: Part 6

We talked to four professors who left NMSU in recent years to get their reasons for leaving. Here’s what they had to say.

By Billy Huntsman

Managing Editor

This is the sixth installment in The Round Up/Oncore Magazine‘s 14-part series investigating professor turnover at NMSU.

Monica Brown

The Round Up/Oncore Magazine attempted to get into contact with all 10 professors. Only Brown, Durán, Luna, and Rodríguez responded (in addition to Porras’ email).

Despite the time gap between when Eber’s study was published in 2008 and when the 10 professors abovementioned started leaving NMSU in 2011, there are striking similarities between Eber’s respondents’ comments and those of Brown, Durán, Luna, and Rodríguez.

Brown worked in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders within the College of Education. She worked at NMSU for 10 years, leaving in 2014, a year after being promoted to full professor. She says such a move after being promoted is unusual.

“I refuse to work at an institution, and specifically in a college or department, that has the leadership, or lack of leadership, that they did,” she says. “And I specifically told (Provost Dan Howard) that I was leaving because our current department head (Marlene Salas-Provance) was unacceptable.”

Brown says, between Summer 2013 until the end of the 2013-2014 school year, six faculty members, all women, left the SPED/CD Department alone, Brown included, two without replacement jobs, because of how “hostile” the work environment was.

“I refuse to work for someone as disrespectful as she is and (for) someone (such as former College of Education) Dean Morehead, who allowed it to happen,” Brown says.

Brown says she had intended to retire at NMSU, “regardless of the lack of competitive salary.” She says she loved the students, Las Cruces, and loved NMSU until Salas-Provance took over as department head in 2010. Morehead spoke with SPED/CD faculty to get their take on Salas-Provance being promoted to department head, and Brown says there was much objection, particularly from SPED faculty.

“I told (Morehead), ‘If she becomes chair, people will leave, she is a polarizing personality, and people will leave,’” Brown says. “And that is what has happened.”

She says Salas-Provance’s department headship “was downhill from day one.” Brown gave an example of behavior on Salas-Provance’s part she found objectionable.

“When we serve on search committees or promotion and tenure committees, the chair (department head) is supposed to be removed from the committee’s process because she or he has their own independent evaluation that they’re supposed to do,” Brown says. “But (Salas-Provance) manipulated those committees and the chairs of those committees who she put in charge of those committees so that she could do this, so that either the people that she wanted to have hired got hired or so that their letters for promotion and tenure reflected what she wanted them to reflect, so that whoever it was that was going up, it was made sure that they got promotion and tenure.”

Brown says she and other faculty members reported such practices, which “is against policy,” but Morehead “did nothing” because “they’re (Morehead and Salas-Provance) close friends.”

Brown says she had decided to start looking for a position at another university shortly before being promoted to full professor. After her promotion, she says, NMSU made no moves to try to retain her.

“I pretty much made it clear that it was a done deal, if (Salas-Provance) was going to continue to be chair of the that department and Morehead was going to continue to be dean of that college, there was no way I was staying,” she says.

Morehead was “forced out” later in the summer after Brown left.

“That’s a positive move for that college,” Brown says.

Though Salas-Provance continues to serve as SPED/CD department head.

“That’s not a good thing,” Brown says.

Brown says if Salas-Provance and Morehead had been removed from the department and college, she would have “absolutely” stayed at NMSU.

Brown says many students were “left in limbo” by the six faculty members leaving between 2013 and 2014. Doctoral students in the SPED/CD Department were especially hurt, Brown says.

“I know one of the faculty members who left and she had three or four doctoral students left to get done,” Brown says. “And she applied to be Graduate (School) faculty but off-campus, and Marlene denied it.”

Brown says she is unsure why this happened, but speculated this was done out of “spite.”

Further, the faculty who remained in the department received excessive amounts of students to advise.

“There’s no morale in that department,” Brown says.

Brown says students get the impression the department is not stable, so why would they want to major in SPED/CD?

Despite the faculty members addressing such concerns with Provost Dan Howard and Dean Morehead, Brown says she got the impression NMSU’s attitude toward losing professors is, “Well, we’ll just go get another one.”

“(After speaking with the provost) I didn’t feel any desire on his part to do anything,” Brown says.

Brown says one reason at least 136 professors might have left in 13 years was a perception of instability on the university’s part, specifically the fact that, in 10 years, NMSU has had three presidents.

“I won’t have anything good to say about that institution until it makes some serious changes,” Brown says. “It’s unfortunate that the last three and a half years that I was there was so unpleasant that it totally trumps the first six and a half years I had that was great.”

Despite multiple requests for comment from Salas-Provance, TRU/OM received no response.

ICT Online

New Mexico Business Gives Glimpse into the Future of Seafood

By Billy Huntsman

Managing Editor

A woman and her husband go out to dinner at Double Eagle in Old Mesilla. They don’t have the kind of money to do this regularly, but what the hell, it’s their 15th anniversary.

As they’re shown to their table by the maître d’, the smell of beef permeates the charmingly antiquated dining room. This restaurant has the only beef ageing room in all of New Mexico, though what this means she isn’t sure and doesn’t ask, because she doesn’t want to seem foolish.

Nor does she want to embarrass her husband, who got dressed up for tonight. He’s obviously trying to be impressive for her and she thinks this is one of the reasons why she loves him.

So they sit and soon thereafter their waiter brings them menus and introduces himself to them. They order water and promise to order something heavier with their dinners. The waiter goes and they open their menus while also commenting how the smell of the steaks other customers are cutting into at their tables is making their mouths water.

And it’s true, the woman can feel her salivary glands producing more than they normally would—certainly more than they would if they were at home and she were cooking dinner.

Despite this fact, there is something else that could make her mouth water even more, though at that precise moment she does not realize it. She is not thinking about it because they were not able to get enough time off from work this summer to make it down to Florida, where she is originally from, to visit her parents.

She is not thinking about it and hasn’t thought about it for quite a while, but the one thing that makes her salivate more than tender, aged steak is shrimp.

Then she opens her menu and on the right page there it is, listed humbly, though her eyes gravitate toward it: Tableside Shrimp Scampi Traditionale – Flambé.

Then she thinks about it. Then the memories of her childhood on the Florida coast rush in on her. Fish fries, salt water, lemon juice.

She looks up at her husband and can see he’s already decided on the rib eye. She looks more through the menu, maybe there’s something different. After all, they are at a steakhouse, and they are in New Mexico, which is not particularly known for its seafood.

She thinks about the sirloin, the New York, the chicken breast, but the shrimp cut through these thoughts and never leave the forefront of her brain.

It’s been so long, in fact she can’t remember the last time she had shrimp.

She thinks about it and is still thinking about it when the waiter comes to take their orders. Her husband orders first, getting the ribeye with a glass of some red, she’s too lost in her decision-making to notice which vintage.

Then the waiter’s head and pad turn to her.

“And for you, ma’am?”

She looks up at him with some kind of urgency, hesitates. She sees her husband looking straight at her, half-smiling in the light from their table’s candle.

Her lips move diminutively.

“The shrimp scampi.”

What the hell, it could be good

Licenseplate online

And because of the New Mexico Shrimp Co., the woman will be delightfully surprised.

Thirteen miles south of Las Cruces, in the tumbleweed town of Mesquite, you come to an intersection with a yellow-flashing light. The north- and southbound lanes have the right-of-way, while the east- and westbound lanes have STOP signs.

Turn east over the train tracks and continue until you reach the lopsided SEQUOIA street sign. Turn left and you’ll quickly find yourself beside a picturesque brick and wrought-iron gate, which is out of place among the dust and scrap metal and trucking depot farther up the road and the splintered wooden sign with ACRES FOR SALE spray-painted in black across its face behind you.

building 1
Gate around the building housing New Mexico Shrimp Co. Photo by Billy Huntsman.

The gate encloses a red metal building with an awning on its front, and from this awning hangs a three-bulb traffic light.

building 2
Gate enclosing sprouting pecan orchard. Photo by Billy Huntsman.

“That’s going to flash green, we’re open, red, we’re not,” says Tracey Carrillo, assistant director of campus farm operations at NMSU.

The awning covers a cement porch, which won’t be empty for much longer.

“This area’s going to serve as a staging area for fresh produce and shrimps, so people can come on Saturdays and we’ll set up,” Carrillo says, likening the idea to a farmer’s market.

building 1
View of awning, porch, and traffic light. Photo by Billy Huntsman.

Outside the porch is a small field of damp soil and scattered throughout this field are baby pecan trees, probably not seven feet tall and probably never will be.

“Anything we put out here is going to produce something,” Carrillo says.

In the ample space behind the building, Carrillo says, will be greenhouses.

“We’re going to be growing anything that’s different in this area,” Carrillo says. “Like bananas and avocados, sea asparagus and wheat grass.”

Another unusual crop grown here is shrimp.

The water used in the shrimp nurseries within the building will feed these greenhouse crops. This water will be cleaned of waste through an aquaponics system.

Because these crops are salt tolerant, Carrillo says, the saltwater produced to raise the shrimp in will be no problem.

“This system, once it’s completed, will be zero waste,” Carrillo says.

Inside the building permeates humidity and the salty fish smell of East Coast beaches. There are two rooms, each large enough to house several towing trucks, separated by a door.

The business had formerly been located in Las Cruces, on Conway Street.  It moved here in August and renovations are ongoing, such as in the first room, where a table saw and a pile of PVC pipe lengths are stacked up like cordwood.

These pipes are cut down to proper size and then fitted together to run along the cement ground and transport water between the shrimp nurseries. Fans in the walls oscillate seemingly at a million miles an hour and create near deafening whirring, pump this water.

The baby shrimp are raised in blue plastic pools, such as you might buy from Wal-Mart for the summer.

Carrillo gets a small blue net, as you might use to remove a pet fish in order to clean its tank, and runs it through the water in one of these five or six nursery tanks. When he pulls out the net and looks in its bottom, there is a handful of small gray worm-looking things.

“They’re called post-larvae, the babies,” Carrillo says. “And we get them from Florida, out of a hatchery there.”

post larvae
Post-larvae in netting. Photo by Billy Huntsman.

At around two weeks old, the larvae are transferred to the grow-out tanks, larger aboveground pools, some with blue plastic tarps hanging over them.

Carrillo gets a larger net, such as a pool cleaner’s, and runs it through the water in one of the larger tanks. When he takes it out, in the bottom of the netting are three or four larger, though equally worm-resembling, gray things.

Carrillo netting post-larvae from nursery tank. Photo by Billy Huntsman.
Carrillo netting post-larvae from nursery tank. Photo by Billy Huntsman.

“These guys, they’ll probably be ready in about a month for popcorn shrimp,” Carrillo says. “In about December, they should be ready for Double Eagle.”

shrimp
Carrillo holding month-old shrimp. Photo by Billy Huntsman.

Each growing-out tank contains about 10,000 shrimp. Soon, there will be 11 grow-out tanks, Carrillo says.

The shrimp are nimble, Carrillo says. Many times, when Carrillo, Rod Rance, his partner in this venture, or one of the one and a half employees come in, they’ll find some shrimp flopping on the cement ground after having leapt out of the growing-out tanks.

“They’ll live out of water for a little bit,” Carrillo says, for hours, even.

Carrillo says he hopes the Mesquite facility can yield around 12,000 pounds of shrimp a year.

Further, Carrillo and Rance hope to franchise their business, in order to set up such a facility as the one in Mesquite around any metropolitan area, Carrillo says.

“We have two (franchisees) already,” Carrillo says.

One is in Las Cruces, the other in Boston. Further, Carrillo says people are “lining up” to establish other franchises, such as in between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as well as around the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

“The idea is to get these restaurants and people fresh, locally grown, all-natural shrimps,” Carrillo says. “Right now, 94 percent of the shrimp in the U.S. is imported, and it’s frozen, has preservatives, and a lot of it has antibiotics in it. So we’re trying to change that paradigm. (Our shrimp) is as good as wild-caught Gulf shrimp.”

To support this franchise model, Carrillo will travel to Stanford University to participate in Fish 2.0, a Shark Tank-esque specializing in investments for sustainable seafood businesses, November 10-11. Carrillo will have 90 seconds in which to pitch the company’s business model in the hopes of winning the $5,000 grand prize, as well as $150,000 in door prizes.

“But the main attraction to it is there’s going to be 300 people in the audience that are potential investors,” Carrillo says.

Carrillo says he plans on asking these investors for enough money to immediately set up another four franchises, in Albuquerque-Santa Fe, the Dallas-Ft. Worth-Austin corridor, Denver, and Scottsdale.

A franchisee can be licensed for about $60,000.

“There’s not very many franchises you can get into for $60,000,” Carrillo says.

NMSU owns the technology and processes of the business, Carrillo says. So if the business franchises further, then the university will get royalties from each business set up, in addition to the three businesses already set up.

“Each person consumes about four pounds of shrimp a year,” Carrillo says, which could mean quite a bit of money, both for New Mexico Shrimp Co. and NMSU.

Carrillo says the business is comparable to shrimp grown in contained environments within the oceans, but his model is far cheaper.

“The largest cost in production is feed and utilities,” Carrillo says.

Another economical aspect of the business, Carrillo says, is the fact that many shrimp can be grown in a small space.

It took three years for Carrillo to figure out how to best grow the shrimp.

“But we can get someone up and going and growing shrimp within a couple months,” he says.

The water in both the nurseries and the grow-out tanks is the color of coffee with milk. This color is the result of the feed the shrimp are given. And within the feed lie the origins of this business.

Beginnings

Before New Mexico Shrimp Co., Carrillo’s efforts had focused on how to revitalize the cotton industry in New Mexico. Carrillo estimated total acreage for cotton in New Mexico was about 30,000, as compared to about 140,000 just a few years ago.

cotton field
NMSU’s cotton farm on University Ave. Photo by Billy Huntsman.

The price of cotton in New Mexico has stagnated for probably 30 years, Carrillo says, as a result of China’s and India’s increased production saturating the market.

“There’s just been an oversupply in the last three years, and it’s driven the price down from about 75-80-cent range to about 61, 62 cents (a pound),” says Sidney Hughs, an agricultural engineer in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At this value, cotton production is not profitable, Hughs says, leading to the reduction in acreage.

Other than the fiber cottonseed produces, the cottonseed itself also has value.

“(Regular cottonseed) is worth about $200 a ton,” Carrillo says, which is low.

The reason for cottonseed’s low market value is that it’s toxic, but is valued because it is a good natural source of protein.

Toxic cottonseed’s main use is for cow feed, says Hughs.  Though not impervious to the toxic cottonseed, Hughs says cows are able to tolerate much more of it.

“(Cows) can metabolize something like 10 or 12 pounds a day of (the toxic cottonseed),” Hughs says.

This is because cows have four stomachs, the bacteria in which break down the toxins.

As he looked for a way to reinvigorate the cotton industry, Carrillo and other researchers developed a new, toxin-free variety of cotton, which still maintains traditional cottonseed’s high protein content.  They then started blending this toxin-free meal with fishmeal, to see if it could reduce the cost of traditional fishmeal, which is about $2,500 a ton, while also creating a demand for more cotton production.

“Our thinking is that if we can help the cotton growers get more value out of their seed, then we’ve helped the cotton industry for New Mexico and all along the Cotton Belt,” Carrillo says. “And if we can help the aquaculture farmers reduce their feed costs, then we’ve helped that industry, as well.”

An increase from $200 to $600 a ton for cottonseed would jumpstart the industry in New Mexico, Carrillo says.

Ideally, Carrillo says, the process of removing the protein from the cottonseed would be constrained to cotton gins, thereby reducing any increased costs of production.

“So that’s where this all started was with trying to add value to cottonseed,” Carrillo says. “And it’s evolved into a commercial aquaculture industry in New Mexico.”

Carrillo says the business is the result of equal parts planning and serendipity.

The toxin-free cottonseed was first fed to shrimp in a small lab, Carrillo says. The decision to grow shrimp as test subjects came from the fact they mature very quickly, as compared to other marine life, such as sea bass, which can take up to two years.

“If you lose a crop of sea bass towards the end, you’ve lost a lot of investment,” Carrillo says. “You lose one crop of shrimp, you can recover.”

After such testing, which resulted in no developmental difference between shrimp that were fed traditional meal and those that were served the cottonseed meal, Carrillo says, Carrillo sent out emails to the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences announcing small-scale shrimp sales.

“And people would line up before we opened around the building with their coolers,” Carrillo says. “And we started thinking, ‘Maybe this could be a commercial venture.’”

After examining costs of production, Carrillo found the fledgling business yielded significant profits.

It was during one such sale that Rod Rance, developer of aluminum trailers, who eventually sold that venture to Warren Buffet, approached Carrillo and expressed enthusiasm in the business.

“He saw the potential in a shrimp industry in New Mexico,” Carrillo says.

After Rance invested in the idea, the New Mexico Shrimp Co. was born, developed from Carrillo’s collaboration with the Agricultural Experimentation Center, the Arrowhead Business Center, and private investments from such people as Rance, who works as Carrillo’s business partner and serves as the operation’s “brawn,” whereas Carrillo, who had no prior business experience, serves as the operation’s “brain.”

Larger scale feedings of the cottonseed are currently underway.

“Our concern is water quality over extended periods of time,” Carrillo says.

After feeding the cottonseed to a larger sample of shrimp for a year, Carrillo says they will retest the water quality.

“So if it doesn’t affect water quality, then we’ve hit a homerun,” he says.

Though currently focusing only on shrimp, Carrillo says the business is not ruling out branching out into the production of other seafood, such as prawns, crawfish, tilapia, and catfish.

“The future of seafood is going to be from facilities like this,” Carrillo says.

Fantasy Football: Week 7

By Julian Martinez

Fantasy Football wk7
Photo from Bleacher Report.net.

Staff Writer

Quarterback: There’s some FitzMagic in the air

A quarterback I really like this week is Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has looked solid throughout the season and has been able to take advantage of the great weapons around him, such as Brandon Marshall, who continues to be a Top-10 receiver, and Eric Decker, who slotted back into a role he’s more comfortable in with the addition of Marshall. This week the Jets will be going to Oakland and even though the Raiders’ defense has looked better as of late, I like this match-up. Fitzpatrick is only owned in 25 percent of Fantasy leagues.

Another quarterback who will be worth starting this week is Matthew Stafford. Although Landry Jones didn’t take advantage of the Chiefs’ defense this past week quite like I imagined, I believe they are still a weak defense against the pass and Stafford should be able to take advantage. Stafford is now more of a quarterback you trust if the match-up is right, but I foresee a big afternoon between him and Megatron to come.

Running back: Foster’s injury has got me feeling Blue 

It is unfortunate that one of the most dynamic athletes in the NFL is done for the year, but that is the case for Houston running back Arian Foster. Foster already missed a couple games this year due to a groin injury, but this past weekend, in a blowout game against Miami, Foster suffered an Achilles tear. This may unfortunately be Foster’s last game in the NFL, as Foster has a long list of injuries throughout his career and this is a contract year for him with the Texans.

So now what? Out of the gate in Houston, I am planning on investing in Alfred Blue. Blue in my mind has never really seized the opportunity when Foster has been hurt before, but he’s going to be given the first opportunity to take the bulk of the carries and there is value in that. Blue should be one of those handcuffs owned in every league, but his ownership has fallen below 20 percent in recent weeks so he is my number one waiver priority this week.

I will say Chris Polk also is a name that interests me in Houston, because if Blue once again fails to take advantage of a Foster injury, then I can very easily see Polk taking advantage. Polk showed productivity in his time last year in Philadelphia and he has actually out-touched Blue in recent weeks. Polk’s ownership is at little more than one percent.

The last name I am going to bring up in regards to the Texans’ run game is Pierre Thomas. Thomas is not currently on the Texans’ roster, but it should be noted he was in contact with Houston earlier this year when Foster was expected to miss up to eight games due to the groin injury. Talks fell through and Thomas remained a free agent, but now that Foster has been placed on the injured reserve, we could see Thomas’ name pick up steam again.

Wide Receiver: Can’t stop talking about Houston this week

Another noteworthy name out of Houston this week is Nate Washington, who saw nine receptions for 127 yards and two scores. An absolutely dominating performance albeit mostly in garbage time. The Foster injury has a two-pronged effect in my mind: sure, it makes it important to pickup the starting running back for the offense, whomever it ends up being, but it makes the urgency to move the ball in other ways that much more important in Houston.

The need to throw the ball may have gone up and as thrilled as DeAndre Hopkins owners would be to see Hopkins get 20 targets a game, he can’t do it himself. Washington has been a good receiver in the NFL and can be a good second option for Brian Hoyer and company. Washington is owned in about five percent of leagues.

A receiver you might have a chance to grab, surprisingly, is Davante Adams from the Green Bay Packers. Adams was dropped recently in a few leagues thanks to an ankle injury, dropping his ownership to roughly about 50 percent. Some might view Adams as Aaron Rogers’ third receiver, but his athletic ability is superior to that of James Jones and should make him the clear second-best receiver in Green Bay’s offense. Jone’ targets rank outside the Top-50 in the NFL and I fully expect his touchdowns to be scaled back with Adams returning. If your fellow owners made the mistake of dropping Adams, then make them pay by scooping him up.

Tight End: Don’t worry there is nothing to talk about in Houston here

Jordan Reed inserted his name into the growing list of valuable tight ends to own this year. Reed coming off a concussion exploded against Tampa Bay this past weekend. His double-digit receptions went along with 72 yards and two scores. It is hard for me trust Reed given his injury history, but if he is on the field he is in Top-5 of the position. Reed is owned in less than half of leagues, so it is definitely possible to still snag him up in a majority of leagues.

Kicker and DST: A Few Notes

A defense that has been quietly productive has been the Minnesota Vikings. Jay Cutler has been known to turn the ball over in the past and I could see this week being one where Cutler finds players in the wrong uniform a couple times. I’m willing to stream them this week.

If you dropped Brandon McManus, this is your reminder to go pick him up again. McManus is battling it out with Stephen Gostkowski this year for the top kicker spot and is one of the few difference makers at the position.

Bye Week Teams:

Buffalo Bills

Washington Redskins

Jacksonville Jaguars

Philadelphia Eagles

Dance the Night Away With NMSU DanceSport

dancesport
2015 Look Who’s Dancing participants. Photo courtesy of NMSU DanceSport Facebook page.

By Billy Huntsman

Managing Editor

The eighth season of New Mexico State University’s Look Who’s Dancing takes place on Sunday, November 8, and hopes to raise more than $80,000 in order to expand the DanceSport program.

The event serves as a fundraiser for NMSU’s DanceSport Company, which is part of NMSU’s Kinesiology & Dance Department. The company raises funds in order to send its members, many of whom are dance majors or minors, to national competitions.

“In the last three years, we’ve brought home 17 national and national collegiate champions,” says Hannah Cole, the company’s director.

Cole says no other college dance team competes together at national competitions.

Cole says this year is the first time the company has sought to expand. Having previously capped membership at 20, Cole says the company now has 23 members. The increase was the result of more talented students auditioning for the team than in years past, Cole says.

With the support of the local community, Cole says raising the $80,000 is “quite possible,” describing the event, which consists of ballroom dancing, as like a football game.

“People will have the opportunity to hoot, holler, boo the judges,” Cole says. “It’s a very interactive experience.”

Now in its eighth season, Look Who’s Dancing was inspired by Dancing With the Stars, and pairs senior members of the company with Las Cruces celebrities—from the pecan industry, Las Cruces Public schools, bank officials, Mary Kay representatives, Las Cruces Homebuilders associates, a hairdresser, and a professor—none of whom have any dance experience.

The students in DanceSport received their partners in the middle of August and have been training ever since, setting their own schedules, designing their own sets and costumes.

“It really acts as a practicum for our students,” Cole says.

Cole says awards for first, second, and third places will be given, as will an Entertainment Award, a People’s Choice Award, and a Superstar Award.

Donny Grooms sits on the company’s volunteer committee, and he also received the Entertainment Award in Season 6.

“It’s a hell of a lot of hard work and more fun than you’ll ever imagine,” Grooms says.

The competition will be followed by a social at Hotel Encanto. For ticket information, call 575-646-4067.

Camp Mary White: Strengthening women

By Billy Huntsman

Managing Editor

CMW 1
Campers at Camp Mary White. Photo by Friends of Camp Mary White.

Lincoln National Forest occupies a million acres of southeastern New Mexico, a sliver of green in a vast, tan, frozen sea of violence. Such greenery is offered up to the sky by several mountain ranges, among them the Sacramentos. The southern extent of these mountains is bordered to the west by Alamogordo and to the north by Ruidoso, while to the south and east are mostly small villages whose names are forgotten almost as quickly as they are said.

Over the mountains, almost directly east of Alamogordo, is the village of Mayhill. This forested hamlet contains a gas station, a small grocer, an inn/café, a post office, and a Baptist church. The nearest hospital is in Cloudcroft, 17 miles east.

Farming and ranching are common trades in the area, as is timber harvesting. To the south of the village are two RV parks, no doubt packed to capacity in the summer, when Mayhill serves as host to tourists seeking a temperate, quiet retreat replete with picturesque hiking trails. In the fall hunters flock to Mayhill, using it as a central point from which to branch out into the wilderness in pursuit of elk, deer, perhaps even so exotic game as Persian ibex or oryx.

In winter skiers and snowboarders, zealous patrons of the nearby Ski Apache and Cloudcroft resorts, overrun the village.

Southwest of Mayhill, deeper in the mountains, among the undulating green hills of flowers, trees, shrubbery, and open fields of tall grass in Escondido and Medina Canyons, is a modest monument to female empowerment.

In 2009 a roadside historic marker was installed at the intersection of Bear Canyon Road and NM-24, just short of the entrance to Muleshoe Ranch. This marker reads, “In 1927, ‘Miss Mary’ established one of the earliest Girl Scout camps in America and the first in New Mexico. Situated on 200 acres in Otero County, a stately pine lodge, Ingham Hall, nestles amid cabins and outbuildings of Camp Mary White. Generations of girls, who learned stewardship of nature and community at the camp, continue to be energized as activists by Mary White’s pioneer spirit.”

This marker would not have been installed if not for the efforts of the Friends of Camp Mary White, a nonprofit organization based in Lubbock, Texas. The organization is committed to the revitalization of the camp.

How It all Started

Available at the Alamogordo Public Library and online is a 1972 recording by Mary White detailing her life.

Mary White was born in Midland, Texas, on September 4, 1894, the first child of Elza and Maude White (née Miller) of Ohio, the children of pioneers. The Whites braved “the wild and uncivilized country” of Texas. Elza first worked as a hotelier, then a sheep rancher, until drastic reduction in the prices sheep and wool bankrupted him.

In 1898, the Whites, now with Mary’s younger brother, Elza Jr., moved to Roswell via the Santa Fe Railroad. Here, Elza Sr. leased the Shelby Hotel and soon got involved in the sheep business again.

“There were evenings of early darkness when we sat quietly and spellbound in the yard while our parents put shivers in our spine and our hair stood on end listening to their dramatic telling of ghost stories,” White says.

In summer White and her brother spent their days playing games, such as Run, Sheep, Run, Kick the Can, Steal Sticks, “or games of our own making” with other Roswell children, and swimming in Roswell’s Spring River, dogpaddling in the 50-foot depth.

“I must have been a great disappointment to Mother, for she was fond of dressy, feminine garments and probably wished many times that she had a ruffled little girl who enjoyed playing with dolls more than the tomboy activities,” White says.

In the early 1900s, Elza Sr. retired from the hotel business, as his ranching concerns were becoming more profitable, and the family took a ranch on the Peñasco River in the Sacramento Mountains, a ranch which soon became known as Muleshoe Ranch, for the shape of Elza’s brand.

During high school in Roswell, White participated in equestrian competitions and in horseshows, receiving medals and ribbons for her efforts.

When she was a junior, she, her brother, and some friends decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns for the first time. A relative of White’s, Jim White, was exploring then-unmapped portions of the caves. Among the enormous shadows cast upon the walls by their gunny sack-torches against stalactites and stalagmites, “one feels so insignificant.” Though she would make many more trips to the caverns in the years to come, White says none was as “thrilling and awe-inspiring as this first one.”

After high school White went to finishing school in Washington DC, where she spent two years.

“We were taken to concerts, theatrical and operatic events,” White says. “Many popular and outstanding artists, poets, writers, and musicians were presented at our assemblies. I was indeed exposed to the social formalities and cultural entertainments. I’m afraid very few of them rubbed off on me.”

The skills she gained in finishing school could not have been put to much use when, after graduating, she returned to Muleshoe Ranch, to take over the duties of the cowboys who had been called on to serve in World War I. But perhaps her time in DC was what compelled President Warren G. Harding, in 1921, to appoint White as acting postmaster in Roswell. As such, White became the first woman in Chaves County to hold a federal office. She was officially confirmed to the position in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge.

Not long after becoming acting postmaster, White was elected by the Women’s Club as one of Roswell’s delegates to the Federated Women’s Club Convention in West Baden, Indiana.

“One session during the convention was devoted to the discussion of various organizations for girls,” White says. “One of the speakers presented the Girl Scout Movement, which at that time was in its infancy in the United States.”

White and the other Roswell delegate agreed Girl Scouts would be something the girls of Roswell would like.

In the fall of 1925, White says, she and another woman organized the first Girl Scout troop in Roswell, later confirmed to be the first troop in New Mexico. That first troop had 16 girls, who camped in tents just outside of Roswell, and Girl Scouts became so popular in Roswell that a council was established by the next year to promote the interests of Roswell’s troop.

“In 1926 this group conceived the idea of establishing a permanent pioneer camp for Girl Scouts and took steps to carry out this idea,” White says.

Girl Scouts’ national office in New York City agreed and sent a representative to plan the permanent camp’s location, layout, and financing.

White’s father offered 200 acres of his land in the Sacramento Mountains and the council accepted. The land was surveyed and the camp planned out. It would accommodate 120 campers and 20 staff members. The overall cost was approximately $35,000, about $480,000 in 2015 dollars, and the estimated construction time was three years.

White’s father raised much of the initial investment and by 1929 the camp was dedicated, dubbed Camp Mary White, and opened to any Girl Scout in the United States.

In 1931 White resigned from the post office to accept a regional camp director position with the Girl Scouts, overseeing troops and camps in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Until 1937 Camp Mary White was one of only two camps serving as national training centers for the national organization. CMW soon gained renown for its unique approach to training women with outdoor skills and leadership. One popular training method was the Camp to Cavern Pack Trip. The troop would alight out from camp, come down from the mountains, cross the desert, and come to the Carlsbad Caverns in the Guadalupe Mountains, a 10-to-12-day journey of 100 miles taken by horseback.

White resigned from Girl Scouts in 1940, at which point she served as postmaster once more, in Tucson, until World War II ended. From 1945 to 1951, she worked as director of Women’s Residence Hall at NMSU, Las Cruces, then in a similar position at the University of Texas, El Paso, until 1960, when she retired to Muleshoe Ranch, where she “often sat on her long porch, from which she waved to campers as they hiked to and from Camp Mary White,” says a Genealogy Trails article on Camp Mary White, available online. White continued to support her namesake camp until her death at the age of 94 on May 15, 1988.

The camp, under the jurisdiction of Artesia’s Zia Council, celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2003, and at this celebration many CMW alumnae came.

“There was a giant sense of disdain and disgust because the camp had been run down basically,” says Samantha Sword-Fehlberg, the daughter of CMW alumna Jeri “DJ” Sword. “It was amazing that the camp was still operating.

In regards as to why Girl Scouts would allow the camp to decay, Sword-Fehlberg, who successfully completed Girl Scouts by earning her Gold Award, the highest achievement within that organization, in 2012, says the organization has “lost sight” of what it believes in.

“That particular area (the Zia Council) was under the impression that girls don’t really need camping to make themselves into stronger women,” she says. “Maybe that’s a good argument, I don’t personally agree with it. But it was more they were under the impression that girls should be cooking and cleaning and being housewives, rather than learning leadership skills.”

After seeing the camp in such disrepair, CMW alumnae founded the nonprofit organization Friends of Camp Mary White.

“The main goal (of CMW) is to rekindle the magic of camping in girls’ hearts,” Sword-Fehlberg says.

At 21 Sword-Fehlberg, from Cedar Crest, New Mexico, and currently an astrophysics major at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, is the youngest member of the FCMW Board of Trustees, which also includes her mother.

Soon after the nonprofit’s establishment, they presented Girl Scouts with a master plan to revitalize CMW but were told CMW was going to be sold off.

“It was a very disheartening day,” Sword-Fehlberg says.

But FCMW’s enthusiasm was rekindled with the fortuitous discovery of a document that stipulated the land upon which CMW was situated could be sold back to White’s family for a particular amount plus one dollar.

“It was a weird clause but you know how they worked in the early 1900s,” Sword-Fehlberg says, adding, “Little miracles happen.”

Another caveat came with the fact that the camp could not be accessed without passing through Muleshoe Ranch, which was owned by Lorraine Marsh-Vogel, White’s grandniece. Marsh-Vogel approached her friend Barbara McCormick, of the McCormick spice company, and asked her for a loan, several hundred thousand dollars, to purchase the camp land from Girl Scouts. McCormick agreed.

Gradual renovations and additions eventually led the camp to reopen in 2009. Since then the Ferndust, Oaks, and Escondido units were stabilized and their kitchens updated. In 2012 the “gem of the camp,” in the words of FCMW President Liz Lonngren in The Alamogordo Daily News, Ingham Hall was given a new roof, unveiled at the camp’s 85th anniversary celebration.

Ingham Hall with new roof. Photo by Friends of Camp Mary White.

Currently the camp’s biggest concern is updating its septic system.

“The next biggest step is getting the septic system, which will lead to our (American Camping Association) accreditation,” Sword-Fehlberg says.

The significance of accreditation, she says, is it will allow the camp to formally advertise without being penalized or dropped by their insurance company and being shut down. Once the camp can officially advertise, Sword-Fehlberg estimates about 600 girls will be reached.

To fund this renovation, costing approximately $35,000, Sword-Fehlberg set up a GoFundMe campaign for the cause near the end of June. The campaign is attempting to raise $40,000. The $5,000 disparity between the funding goal and the septic system’s cost will go toward GoFundMe’s five percent service charge, as well as “a cushion,” depending on how long it takes to raise the money.

“That’s (the $35,000) not even going to cover the entire camp, that’s just for the lodge itself,” Sword-Fehlberg says.

The new septic system will allow Ingham Hall’s kitchen to operate under required health codes.

“The biggest problem now is where do you get the funding?” Sword-Fehlberg says. “Because you can’t bring in more girls because you don’t have the funding, but you can’t get more funding if you don’t bring in more girls. It’s kind of a sick cycle.”

Attendance at the camp currently is driven by word-of-mouth.

This summer the camp hosted 30 to 40 campers plus about 20 staff members, including Sword-Fehlberg and her mother DJ. Pit-latrines, cement square-holes in the floors of wooden buildings in the camp, were used for bathrooms.

“They beat country-squatting,” Sword-Fehlberg says.

Many of CMW’s previous renovations were funded by campers who attended the camp after hearing about it by the friend-of-a-friend system. The cost of attending Camp Mary White is approximately $250.

“Which is unheard of for a weeklong camp with horses,” Sword-Fehlberg says, adding this summer was the first time horses had been back at the camp in many years.

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Camp Mary White’s horses. Photo by Friends of Camp Mary White.

To compare costs, Sword-Fehlberg compared CMW to Rancho del Chaparral, the ACA-accredited Girl Scout camp, the only other girl camp in the state, in the Jemez Mountains.

“For a weekend camp, it can run up to $400,” she says. “Which is outrageous for certain families.”

FCMW’s original master plan in 2004 predicted a 10-year end date for when the camp would be fully up and running.

“You always plan things and they always end up being longer than you think they would be,” she says. “Depending on our fundraising ability, I feel like the camp will be up and running in the next 15 years. That’s my personal opinion.”

Sword-Fehlberg says the time commitment does not intimidate her, she’s in for the long haul.

“I do love this camp,” she says.

Her passion stems from “seeing what kind of person you are when you’re disconnected from the world. It’s amazing.”

Another factor driving Sword-Fehlberg is the memory of a fellow camper, nicknamed Timber, whom Sword-Fehlberg met several while at camp. Timber passed away when Sword-Fehlberg was in sixth grade.

“(Timber) was a huge influence on my life,” Sword-Fehlberg says. “And all the people I’ve met at camp have influenced my life in a way that I can never explain.”

Sword-Fehlberg went on to say these people have impacted her so significantly because of the leadership skills they gained as campers at Mary White.

“It’s amazing to see how much a person can become themselves when they’re not worried about what they look like or things like that,” Sword-Fehlberg says. “And for girls, that’s a big issue right now. Body image is a huge thing and is going to be a huge thing for a while. How do you set yourself apart in a male-dominated world? You first need to learn how to love yourself and I just feel like going to a camp and spending time with all these amazing people helps you learn that.”

Visit the nonprofit’s GoFundMe page:

http://www.gofundme.com/y3d5h5g

and its website:

http://www.campmarywhite.com/

Opinion: Why I love Pope Francis, faults and all

By Nani Lawrence

Staff Writer

2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea Closing Mass for Asian Youth Day August 17, 2014 Haemi Castle, Seosan-si, Chungcheongnam-do Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Korean Culture and Information Service Korea.net (www.korea.net) Official Photographer : Jeon Han This official Republic of Korea photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way. Also, it may not be used in any type of commercial, advertisement, product or promotion that in any way suggests approval or endorsement from the government of the Republic of Korea. If you require a photograph without a watermark, please contact us via Flickr e-mail. --------------------------------------------------------------- 교황 프란치스코 방한 제6회 아시아 청년대회 폐막미사 2014-08-17 충청남도 서산시 해미읍성 문화체육관광부 해외문화홍보원 코리아넷 전한
Pope Francis. Creative Commons photo.

Pope Francis has changed what it means to be Catholic, at least in the eyes of the Vatican.

Since accepting the papacy, he has spoken out about climate change. He’s condemned wage inequality. Most importantly in my eyes, he has even seen to it that bishops who covered up molestation charges resigned.

Personally, I’m a recovering Catholic. By nature I am especially critical of the Vatican. And I must say, I love this man. Actually caring about fellow human beings? Isn’t that what this whole “Christ-like” thing is supposed to be about?

I have irreligious friends who swear up and down that this whole situation is a gimmick. Pope Francis is just some kind of distraction to take our minds off the scandals that have occurred over the years.

More than that, there are other people who think that because he doesn’t hold progressive views on their certain issue, that means he’s no better than Lord Vader AKA Pope Benedict XVI. It’s bothered me for quite a while. I do care a lot about this particular issue, but I also know how religion works.

I know people can never be perfect, no matter how much you want them to be. Pope Francis has, in the past, supported the innate humanity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, but he is still of the belief that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman. I understand and share the frustration, but his stance on marriage does not invalidate all the good he has brought to the Catholic Church.

Francis is a very humble man. On his recent trip to the United States, I saw an everyday car, not a “pope-mobile.” I saw basic white robes and a head covering. I read that he forewent a meal with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and other lawmakers to have lunch with the homeless. I avidly watched the news as he stopped his convoy to bless disabled children.

I may not necessarily believe in God, but I truly believe that Pope Francis embodies many of the good, loving, and truly forgiving qualities Jesus is said to have possessed.

Along with his amazing charity here in the States, of course, came some controversy.

In the news forever –and ever, it seems–Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis weaseled her way into headlines again. She claimed that she and Pope Francis had a secret meeting in which he commended her for denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

When I read that, I must admit, my heart broke a little bit. I can’t stand Kim Davis and the mockery of local government she’s made. Although, as progressive as Pope Francis is, he is still Catholic. He can’t be perfect on every matter, and he definitely isn’t.  He’s still firmly against abortion and artificial contraception, he believes in traditional marriage, etc. Plus, if it came down to social issues and worshiping the way you chose, it’s not a stretch to assume he’d choose the latter.

As it turns out, and as I suspected (because Davis just loves attention), it was mostly a big, fat fib. The Vatican has since denied her version of events, saying their “meeting” was actually the same brief greeting he gave most people. Actually, according to many news sources, the only person Pope Francis visited with at length was a former gay student and his partner.

I can’t help but equate the more-liberal reaction to Pope Francis to the liberal-critical reaction to President Obama. I think both are doing a hell of a job, even if I don’t always agree with them. They are imperfect men, but they are doing as much as they can. Just as our president is nudging Congress to do something, (to paraphrase one of my favorite “memes” on the subject) Pope Francis is trying very hard to teach Catholics how to be Christian.

Opinion: ACES College broadcasts profound ignorance

By Billy Huntsman

Managing Editor

Sometimes I think this university is really progressive and liberal. And then I’m pulled right back into reality.

Such is what happened to me when I saw this video. It’s of an NMSU freshman getting ‘initiated’ into the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences.

The initiation, no doubt contrived to be in keeping with the college’s motif, involves imprinting a cow brand dipped in white paint on the student’s shirt-covered shoulder.

While the College of ACES surely thought this clever and original, to viewers with common sense it’s strange, discomforting, and perhaps even offensive.

Maybe the college can’t be too much to blame. After all, the History Department is in a different college, in a different part of campus.

Had anyone in ACES ever taken a history class, they might have realized how horribly inappropriate (and perversely entertaining) this ‘branding’ video is.

Jews in the concentration camps during World War II were branded with numbers. Black slaves were branded with the imprints of their plantations, as have Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans, any race that has ever been owned by another.

This knowledge makes the video even more unsettling, as the student being branded appears to be Hispanic, while the brander looks like someone out of Deadwood.

There’s a long, terrible history to human branding, but such knowledge is apparently lost on the brander, the brandee, as well as on the audience.  Everyone seems to think it’s perfectly normal.  Smiles and applause abound.  Their thinking must have been, “It’s just paint.”

Maybe.

But for me, the video is a little too Rootsy for comfort.

I’ve often heard there’s no room for the humanities, such as history, in the present’s knowledge bank.  Do you agree?

Opinion: There are still professors who care

By Billy Huntsman

Managing Editor

I am taking Math Appreciation (and no, I don’t appreciate it).  I do, however, really appreciate my professor—Alyne Fulte.  You might know her.  She’s a really small woman.  As she describes herself, “Four-foot-six and a half and I’m proud of that half-inch.”

In class on Friday, in the lecture hall in Science Building (which is totally unsuited to teach math in, but that’s a different article), after passing back our homework and passing out the next worksheet, Fulte took a moment to address the class.

She told us of a recent tragedy in her family which had occurred in the last 24 hours.  Though she did not elaborate as to the exact nature of the tragedy, it obviously was very personal, as she started choking up and may even have shed a tear, but I was too far in the back to see (you see how much I care about math).

Anyhow, even as she was choking up, she instructed us all to give ourselves a great big hug.  As you might imagine, particularly from a class of mostly freshmen (I’m a senior, again you see how enthusiastic I am about taking math classes), there was much confusion and reluctance to follow Fulte’s orders.

Then, as it became apparent Fulte was not joking and indeed was very serious, some of the students did (I didn’t, because I’m too “cool” [overly self-conscious in public]), after which Fulte told us all how valuable we are.  She emphasized it several more times, “You’re valuable, you’re valuable.”  Then, before resuming lecturing and teaching, she blew us all a kiss.

What blew me away about this experience was how novel it was.  As a tenured college student, I suppose I had become jaded (and still largely am) by prior experiences with professors.  I had become used to them not caring to engage us too much, which they can’t be blamed for.  In Math Appreciation alone, there are probably 100 students, multiplied by three or four sections, you and I both can imagine how impossible a task it is to become intimately acquainted with so many students.

But to see Fulte express such emotion to us broke through my hardened college epidermis.  It’s made me believe that all professors aren’t detached from students.  There are, in fact, professors who still give a shit about students on the human, rather than just the student, level.

And Fulte is one of them.

I suppose I wrote this to say thank you to her, and to all the other professors out there who still believe in the nobility of teaching personally, even when all the odds are set against you.

Loans online

NMSU Student Reels in 22-Inch Catfish

By Billy Huntsman

Managing Editor

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Chad Lozano holding up his prize. Photo courtesy of Chad Lozano.

Two students at New Mexico State University have uncovered the secret for catching 22-inch catfish out of Alumni Pond: hotdog bits and stink bait.

Chad Lozano, an information technology major, and a friend were recently fishing at Alumni Pond.  Using stink bait, which Lozano’s friend had brought from New Orleans, wasn’t working, so Lozano suggested they use hot dog bits, as he’s seen other fishermen at the pond use.

“So (my friend) had the great idea of dipping (the hot dog bits) in stink bait,” Lozano says.  “Oh, man, they just love it!”

After they started using this combination, Lozano says he and his friend caught an 18-inch fish, in addition to losing another on the line.

Then, around sunset, not too far off shore, something even bigger latched onto Lozano’s line.

“It fought pretty good,” Lozano says.  “I was scared of losing it.”

Lozano says he and his friend did not realize how large the catfish was until he had reeled it on land.

“We were all, ‘Holy crap! That’s a pretty big cat!’” Lozano says.

It was, in fact, the biggest fish he’s ever caught, Lozano says.

Alumni Pond is stocked by the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish.

“We last stocked Alumni Pond in September with about a hundred 16-inch channel cats,” says Karl Moffatt, spokesman for the department.  “We also stocked the pond a couple of times in July and once in August with about a hundred 18-inch cats each time. We raise catfish at our Rock Lake and also purchase them from hatcheries in surrounding states.”

Moffat says soon the pond, as well as other fishing areas south of Interstate 40, will be stocked with rainbow trout for the winter, a fact Lozano is relishing.

Currently, Lozano says the 22-incher is in his freezer.  He plans on saving it for a fish fry once he’s caught more, which shouldn’t be hard, as he and his friend have reported continued luck with the hot dog-stink bait combination.

Lozano and his friend describe themselves as avid fishermen, one time spending 14 straight hours at the pond.

IMAG0012 (1)
The 22-inch catfish and Lozano’s arm. Photo courtesy of Chad Lozano.

Nonprofit Immigration Law Firm Hosting Benefit Dance

By Billy Huntsman

Managing Editor

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SAMI benefit dance flyer. Photo from Denali Wilson.

The Las Cruces-based nonprofit Southwest Asylum & Migration Institute (SAMI) will host a benefit dance on October 29 at the Community Enterprise Center, 125 N. Main St., from 6 p.m. to midnight.

The event is a fundraiser to support low-cost and pro-bono immigration law services, provided by SAMI, for those seeking asylum or refuge in the United States from violence in their home countries, and those who have been detained and face deportation.

“If you just think about the reality that causes someone to seek asylum, they’re not the kind of person who will be able to hire a private attorney,” says Denali Wilson, a human rights activist and recent NMSU graduate.

Wilson has been working unpaid 20 hours a week at the institute since graduating in May 2015.

“People’s ability to find relief in this country and to navigate the justice system is dependent on nonprofits who are able to provide this work and often pro-bono,” she says.

The legal difference between asylum-seekers and refugees is significant, Wilson says.

“‘Refugee’ can be like generalized violence, which is what we see is caused by a civil war,” she says. “Asylum is like direct persecution, that you are being persecuted because of your race, religion, your nationality, your political opinion, your membership to a particular social group.”

Nancy Oretskin, J.D., an NMSU professor of business law, interim department head of the Marketing Department, and cofounder of SAMI, for which she serves as an attorney, says it’s very difficult to win an asylum case, particularly for Mexican migrants.

“Because in order to win an asylum case, you have to prove that the persecutor is the government, not a criminal organization,” Oretskin says. “And in Mexico a lot of the issues are related to cartels. And connecting the government to cartels is a very difficult issue.”

Despite such difficulties, Oretskin is relishing a recent victorious asylum case for a nine-year-old Mexican boy whose father had his legs severed with a hacksaw by the Chihuahua State Police. The son is now on a course leading to American citizenship, while the father, whose case was administratively closed, is not, though he can lawfully remain in the U.S.

Currently, SAMI has only two people on payroll. Additionally, the organization has interns from the Criminal Justice and Government Departments at NMSU, and volunteers such as Wilson, who says the organization does a lot despite its limited resources.

Other than asylum, SAMI also provides assistance for Deferred Action in Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“So if you arrive undocumented as a child and you meet very, very specific qualifications for the length of time you’ve been here, if you haven’t returned to your country of origin, you can apply for authorization,” Wilson says.

Authorized persons are no longer at risk of being deported and can receive work authorization, but “are in no path” to becoming citizens, Oretskin says.

Wilson says many people in southern New Mexico, as well as students at NMSU, benefit from the DACA program.

Overall, since opening in 2013, SAMI has: won six asylum cases and two administrative closures, gotten work authorizations for 23 migrants, helped 10 migrants enter the country under Deferred Action in Childhood Arrivals (DACA), helped prevent the deportations of three migrants, and helped more than 30 migrants receive humanitarian parole.

Though the majority of their cases come from Mexico, Oretskin says SAMI has also represented individuals from Somalia, Ghana, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Jamaica, and Macedonia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Creative Commons photo.

“Anyone who needs the relief is helped by SAMI,” Wilson says.

SAMI recently won two asylum cases for individuals from Somalia and Ghana, whose harrowing journeys to and through Central America to the El Paso detention center are available to read here.

SAMI is one of the few law firms that will accept asylum cases, Oretskin says. The scarcity of such firms is due to the six immigration judges in the El Paso district.

“They have one of the highest denial rates of asylum and one of the highest deportation rates in the country,” Oretskin says. “And there’s a lot of reasons for that. They also have a very high population that is undocumented.”

Oretskin has been at NMSU for 25 years. In 2009, at “the height of the violence in Juárez,” she was asked to sponsor a fundraiser for an asylum-seeker from Mexico.

“Prior to that I really never studied immigration at law school or had really been involved in immigration,” Oretskin says.

This experience piqued her interest in immigration law, Oretskin says, before which her expertise had been in contracts and conflict resolution.

Oretskin’s work with an El Paso immigration lawyer led her to meet Crystal Massey, a human rights activist, with whom she founded SAMI.

Though not similar in terms of media coverage, Oretskin says, the refugee flood from Central America is and has been similar to the current ongoing Syrian exodus.

syrian refugees - cc
Syrian refugees. Creative Commons photo.

“Crystal and I recognized the need kept coming, there were just clients coming and coming,” Oretskin says. “And they couldn’t afford to pay and they needed help.”

The United Nations Higher Commission on Refugees estimates the United States received more than 120,000 asylum applications in 2015, with the majority of these coming from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, Oretskin says.

Wilson says violence in these countries, which forced the refugees to flee, is the result of U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

“If we look at the war on drugs, for instance, what that has done to Mexico and Central America and the lives that it has destroyed is directly visible in the people that we’re receiving at our borders now,” Wilson says.

Oretskin says the change from contracts law to immigration law was “a total change.”

“To learn immigration, between 2009 and 2011, I maybe attended 50, 60 hours of continuing legal education,” Oretskin says.

As a licensed New Mexico lawyer, Oretskin was able to make the change from contracts to immigration law.

Most of the cases Oretskin, SAMI’s attorney, takes on are for migrants currently held in the detention centers in Chaparral, New Mexico, and El Paso.

Most of the work she does for SAMI is pro bono, or “low bono,” a term Oretskin coined for low-cost work.

“We have some people that pay $10 a month and will pay $10 a month for 10 years,” Oretskin says.

Obviously, Oretskin is not doing this work for the money. So why does she do it?

“Because we just have a crisis in this country of a large number of undocumented people that need legal assistance,” she says. “Especially asylum-seekers. They’re fleeing persecution in a country where they were going to be killed and they’re entitled, through a (United Nations) convention, to have legal representation here, (but) they’re not entitled to get it for free.”

Unlike U.S. citizens, who can receive free legal aid when arrested, migrants can have, but must themselves pay for, attorneys.

“And research shows that if you have legal representation, your chances of winning the case are substantially better,” she says. “So we’re filling a need, especially here.”

Legal Stats Asylum Seekers
Chart showing chances of winning asylum cases with and without legal representations. Photo from Center for American Progress.

By gaining asylum for migrants, Oretskin says, SAMI is able to save lives, keep families safe and together, and turn migrants into tax-paying U.S. citizens.

“It’s the most fulfilling area of law I’ve ever practiced,” she says.

The October 29 benefit dance is meant to raise funds for SAMI to provide legal services, as well as acquire documents such as work permits, which cost $375 apiece, for migrants. A $5 suggested donation is asked before entering the dance, or attendees can donate Spanish-language pleasure-reading material.

These books will be delivered by SAMI and its partner, the El Paso-based Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee, to the migrant detention centers in Chaparral and in El Paso.

“There’s a bunch of migrants who have been detained for a long time and could really use something to do,” Wilson says.

Visit the dance’s Facebook page to learn more.

Wilson encourages students who are looking for an internship to contact their advisers to see if academic credit can be arranged. Further, Wilson says, anyone interested in volunteering at SAMI or doing more for the migrants should get into contact with the organization.

“We need a lot of people who are bilingual, who can translate government documents that’ll be used in court,” Wilson says.

Other services community members can provide lie outside the legal realm.

“There’s 900 people in (the Chaparral detention center), there’s upwards of a thousand people detained in the processing center in El Paso, who just need someone to talk to,” Wilson says.

The detention centers have visiting hours, and volunteers can be helped through the visiting process by SAMI. Additionally, not speaking Spanish should not prevent people from volunteering, as SAMI can help in this area, as well, Wilson says.

Visit SAMI’s website here.