This article has been updated
By BILLY HUNTSMAN
Las Cruces Bulletin
The Las Cruces Police Department, New Mexico State University Police, the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office, and the Doña Ana County Commission have all publicly spoken out against Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations in Las Cruces and the county, and further vowed area law enforcement will not be involved in enforcing immigration laws unless state law is violated first.
Following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent out options of authorization to city, county and state law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration laws. This directive is known as Section 287(g).
“No New Mexico department or agency (state, local or tribal law enforcement) has a signed 287(g) agreement with DHS/ICE,” Chad Pierce, public information officer with the New Mexico State Police, told the Bulletin in an email. “The (directive) is geared toward law enforcement and corrections departments/agencies that operate jail/detention facilities. The 287(g) program is not a program designed for our (state police’s) participation as we have no incarceration facilities.”
Doña Ana Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil has now said multiple times that DASO will not enforce federal immigration laws, citing limited officers and department funding as the reasons, and the fact that immigration law is the direct duty of ICE.
“The Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office is not here to enforce immigration laws,” Vigil said at the Feb. 28 county commission meeting.
He reiterated this statement later that day during a town hall meeting held at the Doña Ana Resource Center in the village of Doña Ana. He’d also previously issued a statement to the Albuquerque Journal, which he invoked at both meetings:
“This new directive from Homeland Security is not a mandate to local law enforcement,” Vigil read from his statement, which goes on to say the directive is an option, which DASO is not choosing to adopt. “My position from the beginning has been that we are charged with enforcing violations of New Mexico statutes.”
Further, Vigil said, DASO is charged with protecting any potential witnesses to crimes, regardless of their immigration status.
As long ago as September 2016 at an immigration forum held in the Las Cruces City Chambers, LCPD Chief Jaime Montoya has said his department will not enforce immigration laws.
“If you call dispatch and say, ‘My neighbor’s an illegal immigrant, can you go send the cops?’ We don’t do that,” Montoya said.
LCPD will only notify immigration authorities if an illegal immigrant is arrested for a non-immigration criminal violation such as aggravated assault or murder.
“The way we look at it is we don’t enforce immigration law, but if they’re here committing crime, we don’t want those people on our streets,” Montoya said.
Montoya reiterated the department’s stance on Jan. 27 in a statement:
“Our primary purpose is protecting the residents of Las Cruces by enforcing local laws,” Montoya said.
NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez circulated an email throughout NMSU’s Las Cruces campus on Feb. 22.
“NMSU Police Department has never sought, and has absolutely no intention of obtaining, authority for its officers to enforce immigration laws under the Section 287(g) program,” Lopez said in the email.
Section 287(g) is DHS’s directive giving the option to local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. “Our officers have enough work to do enforcing state statutes and providing proactive crime prevention,” Lopez said.
The Doña Ana County Commission, on Feb. 28, following input from the public, voted 4-1 in adopting a resolution opposing ICE operations in the county. District 3 Commission Ben Rawson cast the dissenting vote, saying the general consensus of the public was that they were against arresting and deporting individuals solely for immigration law violations, but for arresting and deporting individuals who violate New Mexico statutes and also happen to be in the country illegally.
“Yet that (differentiation) is nowhere in the resolution that we’re talking about today,” Rawson said. “The resolution just says we oppose (enforcing immigration law), that’s it, doesn’t matter who it is, doesn’t matter what they’ve done.”
Rawson said he could not support the resolution as it was currently worded.
Billy Huntsman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or on Twitter at @billy_huntsman.