This article has been updated.
By BILLY HUNTSMAN
Las Cruces Bulletin
At around six a.m. Wednesday morning, residents in northwest Las Cruces called local media to say they saw Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in their neighborhoods. These officers entered certain homes to apprehend “deportable foreign nationals.” How many arrests and the exact location were not revealed by ICE officials.
ICE said in the statement the arrests made Wednesday morning were part of a “targeted enforcement operation.”
“The focus of these targeted enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis,” said El Paso ICE spokesperson Leticia Zamarripa.
While no clarification as to what offenses the arrested individuals had committed, ICE’s statement said the agency was acting on President Donald Trump’s orders to focus on “removing individuals who pose a threat to public safety, who have been charged with criminal offenses, who have committed multiple immigration violations or who have been deported and re-entered the country illegally,” reads the statement.
Less than 12 hours after the arrests, Comunidades en Acion y de Fe (CAFé), a local organizing group that has been very vocal in its support of undocumented immigrants living in the Borderlands and critical of national efforts to deport foreign nationals and to keep immigrants from entering the country, organized a marching protest.
The protest, made up of about 50 people, CAFé staff and supporters, started at 4 p.m. in front of the City of Las Cruces Judicial Complex – Municipal Court, 135 E. Griggs Ave., where Johana Bencomo, CAFé community organizer, started a chant through a megaphone.
“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”
Protest participants held handmade signs urging onlookers to call New Mexico’s U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich (D) and Tom Udall (D) and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R) and tell them to reject federal deportation efforts in New Mexico.
“Down, down with deportation, up, up with liberation!” Bencomo changed the chant as some of the protesters joined hands and formed a line of bodies along the crosswalk on Church Street.
Soon, traffic coming north along Church was impeded and confused motorists quickly became irritated and leaned on their horns.
The protesters were not perturbed, many having attended peaceful protesting trainings put on by CAFé since Trump signed executive orders barring immigrants from various Middle Eastern countries and deputizing local law enforcement to enact federal immigration laws.
Both the Las Cruces Police Department, as well as the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office have publicly stated they will not enforce such federal law unless they arrest individuals for crimes that fall under their jurisdictions, such as robbery or assault.
“Reform, not raid!” Bencomo changed the chant again. “Reform, not raid!”
After about 15 minutes, Sarah Silva, CAFé executive director, started the protest’s march up Church Street, obstructed traffic behind the protest moving at a snail’s pace and becoming more aggravated by the second. A woman beat a marching beat on a rawhide drum.
“Show me what community looks like!” Bencomo said.
“This is what community looks like!” the protesters responded.
“Show me what unity looks like!”
“This is what unity looks like!”
As the protest proceeded up Church Street, the people changed their chant to “Not one more!” and waved their signs at local news cameras.
“What do we want?” Bencomo asked.
“Justice!” the crowd replied.
“When do we want it?”
“If we don’t get it?”
“Shut it down!”
At the roundabout in front of Las Cruces City Hall, motorists attempted to sneak around the protesters, but the opponents of deportation efforts were quick to fill any gaps in the line they formed, trapping traffic behind them and confusing other drivers who came around from the other side of the roundabout attempting to get onto North Main Street.
The protesters continued until they reached the intersection beside Thomas Branigan Cultural Center, where they set up camp, some on the sidewalk bordering Albert Johnson Park, others on the island between the sidewalk and North Main Street, but the majority formed another line of bodies across Picacho, preventing cars from driving through the intersection of Picacho and North Main.
As the protesters in the line sat down along North Main, some of the motorists turned out of the backed up lines of traffic and circled back to the roundabout, but others were more stubborn, remaining in the traffic, honking, insisting they be let to pass.
Las Cruces police soon arrived, first as three motorcycle officers, then in droves in cars and SUVs. They blared their horns and flashed their lights at the protesters, as though it were some Pink Floyd concert. Police blocked both entrances to North Main, as well as the intersection to redirect traffic up Picacho.
They spoke with Silva, Bencomo and Sara Melton, another community organizer with CAFé, asking what they were protesting for.
“ICE is deporting members of the community,” Silva told one officer as she sat on the asphalt.
She said she wanted ICE officers out of Las Cruces.
“We have no authority over that,” said the officer.
“I know,” Silva replied.
The sit-down protest lasted another 15 minutes before Silva and the rest of CAFé led the protesters off the road and into the grass of Albert Johnson Park.
“How many of you was that your first time doing that?” Silva asked the protesters.
A dozen raised their hands.
“Some people may think we did this just to be rebel-rousers, to be troublemakers, or that we don’t have jobs or that we were paid to do this,” Silva said. “We have to respond to people being torn from their homes in the middle of the night and in the morning and being asked for their papers. You’ve let everyone in this community know that they are not alone. In Las Cruces no on stands alone.”
In a post-protest media interview, LCPD Chief Jaime Montoya said the department had not arrested any of the protesters nor would it seek to press charges or issue citations, as the protesters were only exercising their First Amendment right of free speech and peaceful assembly.