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Immigration lawyer faces death threat over work

SANTA FE – A death threat against immigration attorney Allegra Love launched an FBI investigation and forced the Santa Fe advocate to abandon her home until the danger passed, sources have told Searchlight New Mexico.

The threat came in an April 29 voicemail from a New Mexico phone number. A man growled into the phone: “I’m going to murder every one of you tyranny-loving mother(expletive). Be ready for me! You are all (expletive) dead.”

The next day, an FBI agent met Love at her office.

“Here’s what we suggest,” she says the agent told her, “‘Keep the doors locked. If your staff is uncomfortable, they can work from home. We’re taking this as credible. We’re going to try to figure out who the caller is.'”

As director of the nonprofit Santa Fe Dreamers Project and an outspoken advocate for immigrant families in New Mexico, Love says she has faced her share of insults. But nothing like this.

“It scared me to think that something could happen to our staff,” says Love, a former teacher in Santa Fe Public Schools.

Albuquerque-based FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said the agency cannot confirm or deny an investigation. But he explained the difference between strong words and a criminal act this way.

“When it crosses the line to ‘I’m going to hurt you or your relatives,’ that is where it becomes a threat of violence,” he says. “It is no longer just expressing an opinion.”

Though the caller did not carry out the attack, the threat was especially chilling because of its specificity, Love says. The caller stated when, where and how she and her colleagues would die.

Love’s twin sister begged her to leave her house. Police said they would keep a close patrol of her home and office until the threat passed.

She packed her things, locked her doors and stayed away from her house for more than two weeks while law enforcement watched and waited.

In the fervor over illegal immigration, the migrant caravan this spring became a particular focus of attention. It was the latest annual pilgrimage meant to draw attention to the plight of Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries.

President Trump decried the caravan as a threat to border security. Anti-immigrant groups rallied around the cause.

Along with a dozen or so other attorneys, Love was in Mexico with the caravan in April to answer questions and conduct legal seminars. An NBC Nightly News report showed migrants congregating under blue-and-yellow tarps after traveling hundreds of miles by train and on foot.

“People want to know,” Love told NBC, “‘if I turn myself in at the U.S. border, what is going to happen to me?'”

Her work in Mexico coincided with the mission of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. In addition to providing pro bono legal aid to about 700 immigrants per year in New Mexico and asylum seekers in detention, the nonprofit offers “know your rights” seminars, legal clinics and community presentations.

In Mexico, Love says, she explained U.S. asylum law to migrants, described poor detention conditions and warned about family separation polices at the border. The work made her uncomfortable, she says, because “politically, I don’t want to be telling asylum seekers not to come to our border, which is what I was telling 90 percent of the people.”

On April 24, Fox News presented a segment on The Ingraham Angle that Love says broadly mischaracterized her work.

Laura Ingraham – whose opinion show ranks No. 2 on cable with 4.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen – appeals to conservatives with no-holds-barred commentary. Recently, during the intense coverage of parent-child separation, she called child detention centers at the border “essentially summer camps.”

Ingraham opened the April 24 segment by saying, “We have also learned – this is curious – that American attorneys have traveled southward to meet with migrants to instruct them on their rights to apply for asylum in the United States. We did some digging and, according to reports, two of these lawyers are Allegra Love of Santa Fe Dreamers Project and Marie Vincent, who also works for a small 501(c)3 organization.”

“The problem for the attorneys helping the members of the caravan could be the U.S. law,” Ingraham said, quoting a federal statute that prohibits citizens from inducing a foreign national to enter the U.S. illegally. “If these attorneys are holding what is being described as these large-group seminars and demonstrate intent to skirt the laws or to help the migrant skirt the laws, well, they could be in jeopardy at least technically.”

The Ingraham Angle never called Love or Vincent for comment.

“They never interviewed me,” Vincent told Searchlight. “I just remember being shocked they were talking about us without asking us anything.”

Searchlight New Mexico reached a Fox News spokeswoman who declined to answer questions on the record.

Love says, “The sickest I felt about this whole thing, including listening to the threat, was watching The Ingraham Angle. It was seeing something that is broadcast to millions of people that is completely mischaracterizing your action.”

The threat came five days later.

At the Dreamers Project, the threat “did what it was supposed to do,” Love says. “It distracted us from the work. It made us question, why are we doing this?”

As the lawyer sat in her Santa Fe office, pondering her work’s purpose, a Spanish-speaking family – young children in tow – filed in the front door looking for help.

She had her answer.

Searchlight New Mexico is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to investigative journalism. See projects.searchlightnm.com

Immigration lawyer faces death threat over work

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