Immigration activists target sheriff’s department

Immigration activists target sheriff’s department

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Brandon Vasquez, a Mexican-born DACA recipient fearing deportation for his family and himself as a result of President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration, spoke at the CAFé press conference held in front of the sheriff’s office, 845 N. Motel Blvd. Photo by Billy Huntsman.

By BILLY HUNTSMAN

Las Cruces Bulletin

President Donald Trump on Jan. 26 ordered the director of Homeland Security to authorize local law enforcement officials throughout the country to enforce federal immigration statutes.

The order is concurrent to Trump’s executive orders restricting travel from seven Middle Eastern countries.

Some officials in New Mexico are pushing back. State Rep. Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, has introduced House Bill 116 that would prohibit local and state law enforcement from using state or federal resources “for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship who have entered or are residing in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.” 

In September, Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya told an immigration forum that his department does not enforce immigration law. Montoya reiterated his statement on Jan. 27 following Trump’s executive orders, which call for the transfer of undocumented people to federal authorities for deportation.

“The enforcement of federal immigration laws and the arrest of undocumented foreign nationals reside exclusively with the federal government,” Montoya said in a press release.

LCPD will only check an individual’s legal status if he or she is arrested for a crime that falls under LCPD’s general orders. “We don’t enforce immigration law, but if they’re here committing crime, we don’t want those people on our streets,” Montoya said.

LCPD will not alert Border Patrol or other federal authorities for minor infractions, such as not having a driver’s license and/or registration, committed by undocumented immigrants, Montoya added.

Now, community organizing group NM Comunidades en Accion y de Fe (CAFé) is calling on the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department (DASO) and Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil to say where they stand. Group supporters gathered in front of the sheriff’s office on Feb. 3 for a press conference in an attempt to have Vigil answer the question: Will DASO enforce federal immigration laws after the secretary of Homeland Security was authorized by President Donald Trump to deputize local law enforcement agencies throughout the country to do so?

“Our sheriff has a lot of power right now and a choice of whether he’s going to aid and abet deportation or if he’s going to stand between deportation and our people,” said CAFé community organizer Sara Melton.

Melton said CAFé has been trying to meet with Vigil to discuss what action the DASO will take on immigration policies. She says Vigil has not returned her phone calls and that he canceled a previously arranged meeting.

The sheriff’s office says the sheriff did not cancel the meeting.

“This is about whether people can trust the sheriff’s department or if they have to worry about their families… when they see a sheriff official,” Melton said.

DASO said it currently has a policy of not inquiring as to anyone’s legal status. The policy is part of the “Safe Communities” measure, which was passed by Doña Ana County commissioners in 2014.

On Jan. 27 Vigil said he has abided by that policy since taking office in 2015 and will continue to do so, saying his deputies will not act as federal agents.

Still, Melton said CAFé wants Vigil to address the public directly, which DASO says it already did during a meeting with CAFé members present.

DASO communications specialist Kelly Jameson said the DASO has a commitment to protect all citizens of Doña Ana County and that it has no jurisdiction to enforce immigration law or inquire about immigration status.

“That’s not what we do,” she said.

Some in the Las Cruces faith community have publicly chided the sheriff’s department.

“It’s truly disappointing when elected officials are either too busy or simply not responsive to the very people that help vote them into office,” said Deacon Louis Roman of St. Genevieve’s Catholic Church at the Feb. 3 rally.

Roman said immigrants and refugees have always been critical to the success of local businesses.

“They are the backbone of the labor pool needed for our construction industry, as well as our agricultural and dairy industries,” he said.

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Deacon Louis Roman of St. Genevieve’s Catholic Church at the Feb. 3 rally. Photo by Billy Huntsman.

Rabbi Larry Karol of Temple Beth-El called for increased communication between law enforcement and the public.

“We ask the sheriff to meet those among us who live in needless fear,” he said. “We want the sheriff and other elected officials to look into the eyes of these people who have concerns.”

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Rabbi Larry Karol speaks at the CAFé press conference held in front of the sheriff’s office, 845 N. Motel Blvd. Photo by Billy Huntsman

 

One of them is Brandon Vasquez, a 19-year-old Mexican-born Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient.

“I am someone that is being targeted by President Trump,” he said.

Vasquez is a student at New Mexico State University.

“Donald Trump is saying I’m a rapist, that I’m someone who’s trying to take people’s jobs away,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said he doesn’t feel protected by the sheriff’s department and wants to change that. He said he was disappointed by Vigil canceling the meeting with CAFé.

“I wanted to meet with him to see if he can work with us and not enforce immigration laws and come out in public and say he’s not following what President Trump is saying and doing,” he said.

DASO’s Jameson said Vigil had heard about the press conference the day before, on Feb. 2, and was already scheduled to be in Santa Teresa the following day.

“It’s unfortunate that (CAFé) expected to talk to the sheriff when they could have made prior arrangements,” Jameson said.

Currently, CAFé is not attempting to get a statement from state police regarding that department’s immigration policy.

“That doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t,” Melton said.

Currently, state police are directed by a 2011 executive order from Gov. Susana Martinez to inquire about legal status after someone has been arrested. Depending on the severity of the crime, state police then alert federal immigration authorities of the undocumented detainees.

The Bulletin attempted to contact New Mexico State Police regarding the issue but received no response.

Billy Huntsman can be reached at billy@lascrucesbulletin.com, whuntsman93@gmail.com, 575-680-1958, and on Twitter at @billy_huntsman.

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