Category Archives: Access

Gray Skies: Big Black Squares

By Marisa Demarco

There are two ways a campus sexual assault can be investigated: 1) criminally and by police, which may lead to a trial in months or years down the line 2) administratively by a university, which could lead to a student being suspended or expelled.

People who’d been sexually assaulted at the University of New Mexico came to me with stories about how the long, confusing administrative investigation left them feeling vulnerable, and in some cases, unable to finish school. In some instances, the reporting process itself, they told me, put them in jeopardy. They said the system re-traumatized survivors of sexual assault.

The federal Office of Civil Rights says administrative university investigations should take 60 days. But I was hearing from my sources that these were going on for way longer than that.

I started looking for numbers. How many cases spilled over that 60-day timeframe and how long did they drag on? Students were telling me cases dragged on for more than a year sometimes. UNM said it was an average of only 90 days.

I put in an IPRA request for timeline information. I tailored my request so identity was not part of the information I sought, only dates. Pages and pages of black squares came to my inbox. The documents were so heavily redacted, I couldn’t make heads or tails of them.

Many of the students I spoke with did not want to be used in any reporting I did. Person after person would explain that speaking out could lead to a lot of trouble within their academic program or could be a traumatizing experience.

And the university, though willing to speak generally about the process for investigating civil rights complaints, didn’t sufficiently respond to student allegations that UNM’s investigations interfered with their ability to finish school.

Using expert sources, I still reported on the core issue and what’s at stake for students. KUNM aired a series before and after the Department of Justice released its report on how UNM handles sexual assault.


Marisa Demarco is a radio reporter with KUNM News and an SPJ Rio Grande board member.


It’s Sunshine Week, which is all about your right to know.  We’ll be rolling out all kinds of content on this site and on social media. This “Gray Skies” series will look at instances when officials, agencies and public institutions not transparent and evaded the disinfecting power of sunlight.

GRAY SKIES: IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES MUST COME OUT OF THE SHADOWS

By Heath Haussamen

A recent tweet from U.S. Immigrants and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed that the agency had arrested an Arkansas man on “child sex tourism charges.”

That arrest fit the narrative ICE spreads – that immigrants are criminals who need to be deported – so the agency released details.

But try to get information on a detained immigrant not wanted for any crime other than living in the United States without legal status, and you get a different answer. Last month, after four days of back-and-forth emails, an ICE spokeswoman told me the agency would release no information on a case I was asking about “absent a signed privacy waiver from the individual.”

For days, she said she was researching my request. She could have given me that answer from the start. That’s called being given the runaround.

Unfortunately, ICE and other immigration enforcement agencies are allowed to do just that.

Local and state transparency issues should be spotlighted during this year’s Sunshine Week. While New Mexico has some of the stronger state-level transparency laws in the nation, getting agencies to comply is often challenging.

At least at the local and state level we have recourse through the courts and law enforcement. But federal immigration enforcement agencies like ICE are not required to release information about people they’re detaining.

As The Texas Tribune recently reported, ICE “provides detailed immigration histories of ‘criminal aliens’ only when it chooses to — like after high-profile cases that spark local outrage. ICE refused, meanwhile, to give the Tribune identifying information about any significant slice of the immigrant population it detains, deports or releases — extending privacy protections even to nine of the state’s 12 undocumented death row inmates.”

That makes it really challenging to learn about what immigration authorities have been doing since Donald Trump became president – and whether arrests in Doña Ana County and elsewhere since he took over are “routine,” as ICE insists, or the military operation Trump claims.

Thanks to reporting by journalists and information from activists, we know that the numbers of people detained may not be higher than under former President Barack Obama, but there is a difference: Folks living in the United States without legal status but not otherwise wanted for a crime were usually left alone before. Now, it appears, agents are detaining such people.

Regardless of whether you agree with that, it’s a significant policy shift that affects people living in our communities and rips families apart. It deserves public scrutiny so people can hold elected officials accountable for what their government is doing.

The Boston Globe recently asked Trump to adopt a new level of transparency.

“President Obama should not have allowed this vast system to jail and deport people in secret, and you should not, either,” Globe editor Brian McGrory wrote to Trump. “We urge you to end this secrecy once and for all.”

The selective release of information is deceptive. Real transparency gives us access to data and people’s stories – all stories, not just those that fit a political agenda.

Officials with ICE have complained that reporting on recent arrests was erroneous, irresponsible and harmful. That’s crap. If you want us to report facts, give us facts. If you don’t, you’re to blame when you feel misrepresented. We’re doing our best to find the truth without your assistance.

We should all join the Boston Globe in demanding transparency from immigration enforcement agencies.

Haussamen, a Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter Board member from Las Cruces, runs NMPolitics.net, a news organization devoted to hard-hitting, fair exploration of politics and government that seeks to inform, engage and build community. Reach him at heath@haussamen.com, on Facebook at /haussamen, or on twitter @haussamen.


It’s Sunshine Week, which is all about your right to know.  We’ll be rolling out all kinds of content on this site and on social media. This “Gray Skies” series will look at instances when officials, agencies and public institutions not transparent and evaded the disinfecting power of sunlight.

Interstate Stream Commission Receives “Black Hole” Distinction From SPJ

The Society of Professional Journalists chose the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission for the 2016 Black Hole Award. The award draws attention to “government institutions or agencies for outright contempt of the public’s right to know.”

SPJ Rio Grande board president Laura Paskus nominated the ISC this year:

I’ve been a journalist for almost 15 years and have been covering this particular agency for that entire time. Over the past few years however, the agency has become increasingly secretive, in particular as the state has proposed building a controversial diversion on the Gila River, here in New Mexico.

Most recently, the agency refused to release an unlocked version of a spreadsheet to a citizen … and it took a US senator reading my story to get the citizen the records.

And the city of Hobbs, New Mexico was also a finalist for the 2016 Black Hole Awards. Read the full release from SPJ here.