SOCORRO, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico mayor has a message for COVID-19 victims headed to a local hotel in his town: You are not welcome here. That hotel is being converted into a COVID quarantine but the mayor is shutting it down.
It’s an issue that is dividing a New Mexico community. “To me, it didn’t sit right with me,” Socorro resident Hector Guerro said.
Monday, the mayor of Socorro said on Facebook that he is against housing COVID-positive Navajo Nation members for quarantine at the Days Inn hotel. Mayor Ravi Bhasker put up barricades manned by police to keep people out and cite anyone who crosses. “I interpret that as being very inhumane, and I also consider that discrimination,” Guerro said.
Guerro, who is a former Alamo Navajo tribal leader, said he believes it was directed at Alamo Navajo since it is the only Navajo Nation community in Socorro County. “It is very concerning that the mayor would pick a certain group of people and deny them the access to quarantine and stay away from their families so they can get better,” Guerro said.
County Commissioner Martha Salas, who represents the northern part of the county and Alamo Navajo, said she has received 40 calls about the post since last night. “It’s like a trigger, they have lost a lot of their community members to COVID and so this just opened up a sore wound,” Salas said.
Bhasker said that he doesn’t know if it’s people from all over the Navajo Nation coming to quarantine or just Alamo Navajo. Bhasker also doesn’t know how long they planned to stay there or if there is anyone currently quarantining there. Bhasker said that is what his problem is.
Bhasker said the Navajo Nation, and PAE who was contracted for the work never contacted him. He didn’t know about it until he saw them setting up Monday morning.
“I’m just not going to be bulldozed by a company that has been hired by the Navajo Nation and have them do whatever they please in the city of Socorro,” Bhasker said. “I just can’t have that, and that would be for anybody.”
Bhasker said it is a voluntary quarantine program and people can leave when they want to. He said he is concerned about people leaving the hotel with COVID and infecting the community.
“I want some sort of written plan to make sure nothing goes wrong, and if there are things that do go wrong like people who are COVID-positive going out into the community, they need to have contingencies for that,” Bhasker said. “I just can’t have people coming in and doing a project with that kind of possibility of a problem without checking with us.”
Guerro said he views it as a leader turning away those in need. “We can no longer be treated this way as Native Americans,” Guerro said. “We need help.”
KRQE News 13 reached out to PAE who directed us to the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation did not answer our specific questions, but they said they are working with officials to address the matter. Guerro said he has been told this issue is being submitted to the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.