Silver City Sun-News: U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich discusses issues with WNMU students

National security, surveillance top topics

By:  Susan Dunlap

SILVER CITY >> U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich discussed national security and surveillance with students from Silver High and student loans with students from WNMU as part of a full day of events Wednesday in Silver City.

Heinrich also met with the NM Green Chamber of Commerce's southwest chapter, the Volunteer Center and the Wellness Coalition before wrapping his trip up with Silver City's celebration for being designated as the first gateway community for the Continental Divide Trail at the Visitor's Center late on Wednesday.

"I love Silver City," Heinrich said after his meeting with the high school students. "This is a wonderful and really engaged community. People know each other, there's a real sense of community here."

Heinrich, who sits on the Senate National Security Intelligence Committee, met with a group of sophomores from Silver High School who placed first at a regional competition for a 10-minute documentary they made called, "NSA: Privacy or Protection." The young ladies said after the meeting with Heinrich that they learned a lot from their discussion with him.

"He gave us new perspectives on how to look at it," Danii Gough, 16, said.

"It was a really cool experience," Rhiannon Jaramillo, 16, added.

Heinrich told the students he thought these issues over privacy would continue to percolate.

"We've moved from individuals being concerned about privacy to businesses talking to us very candidly with concerns over this having a negative impact on digital businesses," Heinrich said during the discussion. "These businesses are job creators and this puts us at a competitive disadvantage in the world."

While criticizing President Barack Obama's policies on data collection, calling it inconsistent with our nation's values, Heinrich spoke of the National Security Agency as employing a lot of really smart people who are, in his words, doing the right thing.

"We need to be both safe and free," Heinrich told the students.

Before his meeting with the Silver High School students, Heinrich met with a diverse group of traditional and nontraditional WNMU students to discuss student loan issues. He said he learned that a lot more work needs to be done to keep college affordable for New Mexico students.

Heinrich participated in passing legislation earlier this year to keep student loans from doubling overnight, but he said that bill doesn't address all of the issues.

"Higher education is becoming something for people of means," Heinrich said. He also said he thought this issue was especially important for New Mexicans.

"If we're not allowing students with limited means to get an education, then we're limiting our best future economic leaders from participating in the economy," he said.

Susan Dunlap can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5803.