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Immigrants fear ICE activity in New Mexico

Hilaria Martinez discusses her family’s experience after her husband was detained by ICE agents in 2017. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

For Hilaria Martinez and her daughters, the threat of deportation is a nightmare that never goes away.

A couple of years ago, long before the August U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Mississippi, she found out what it was like to have her family torn apart.

“I know the fears my daughters and I have at night,” she said. “Having to take medications at night to sleep, having to take medications to deal with emotions is something my family hadn’t had to deal with before.”

ICE agents detained her husband – who had entered the country illegally – in 2017 outside the office of his probation officer.

Her husband had been convicted for DWI and was visiting his probation officer when he was taken into custody and held for 55 days at a private facility in Otero County.

“My daughters still live in fear that even though their father is back, once again they will be separated,” she said.

It is a fear many in the immigrant community in Albuquerque knew even before ICE agents raided several food-processing plants in Mississippi and the recent revelation that the agency had requested employee records from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

According to media reports, ICE agents arrested more than 600 individuals in Mississippi believed to be working in the country without the proper documentation.

Rosalinda Dorado-Mendoza, left, Fabiola Landeros and Hilaria Martinez share their families’ experiences with ICE detention and deportation. They said recent ICE raids in Mississippi and ICE requests for employment records in New Mexico is a cause of concern in the Albuquerque immigrant community. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“It’s concerning,” immigrant Rosalinda Dorado-Mendoza said of the Mississippi raids. She is a community organizer with nonprofit El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, an immigrant advocacy group. “It’s awful that so many families were separated. So many children didn’t know who was going to pick them up. It’s concerning here in New Mexico because so many immigrant families work and contribute to the economy and pay taxes.”

Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said he understood what families were going through, but added that ICE agents “are just doing their jobs, enforcing the laws that we have.

“We need to decide what kind of immigration that we want,” the former congressman said. “Do we want secure borders with legal immigration? Or do we want open borders with few limits?”

Dorado-Mendoza and Martinez said they can empathize with what immigrant families in Mississippi are going through.

Dorado-Mendoza was a young student about to enter the University of New Mexico when her brother Ramon was detained by ICE five years ago while living in the country illegally.

“My brother started college, he was on his last week before graduation,” Dorado-Mendoza said. “And it was my orientation day. He was giving me a ride to UNM. … What we thought was going to be a routine traffic stop ended up being a nightmare.”

Rosalinda Dorado-Mendoza was in the car with her brother Ramon when he was taken into ICE custody after a traffic stop. Her family’s experience inspired her to become involved with El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, an immigrant advocacy group. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The police officer started questioning her brother’s immigration status, she said, asking for his papers and Social Security number.

“He had us there for what seemed like hours,” Dorado-Mendoza said. “And he called ICE on us. ICE got there, started questioning my brother. They detained him and took him into custody.”

The ICE officers then started questioning her.

“I remembered not to say anything,” she said. “I started shaking in fear. I just remained silent. At that point, the officer put my brother in the patrol car.”

She and her mother sought the advice of attorneys and found out their options were limited. Her brother voluntarily accepted deportation.

“If you have children, if you have brothers and sisters, it’s the worst feeling being separated from people you care about,” Dorado-Mendoza said.

For Martinez, telling her children their father wasn’t coming home was among the hardest parts of the ordeal. She said he hadn’t been away from home that long before.

“Me and my four daughters were left all alone when he was detained in Otero County,” she said. “It was traumatic.”

Although Martinez’s husband experienced what she describes as horrible conditions in the private prison in Otero County, he was not deported.

That was not the case with Fabiola Landeros’ brother Marcos. He was deported after being detained for a couple of months after his DWI arrest led him to the Metropolitan Detention Center in 2013.

“Immigration came into the jail and interrogated inmates,” Landeros said. “When it came time for his interview, he couldn’t prove his status.”

She said that before his arrest he had been planning to open a business.

“He was the person who was helping me with my kids,” she said. “He came with me to New Mexico after my husband died and I remarried.”

Uptick in activity

Rachel LaZar, director of El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, said the deportations experienced by the Martinez, Dorado-Mendoza and Landeros families typify ICE activity in Albuquerque now.

LaZar said there’s been an uptick in ICE activity not only through the court system, but “through workplace enforcement.”

“You saw that in Mississippi,” she said. “We’re seeing it in New Mexico through I-9 audits.”

An I-9 audit occurs after ICE serves a notice of inspection on an employer, compelling them to surrender their I-9 forms to the government. An I-9 verifies the identity and the employment authorization for each employee and is part of the federal immigration regulatory process.

According to the ICE website, the agency has served more than 5,200 I-9 audit notices nationwide since January as part of a two-phase operation.

“This is not a victimless crime,” said Derek N. Benner, acting executive associate director for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations. “Unauthorized workers often use stolen identities of legal U.S. workers, which can significantly impact the identity theft victim’s credit, medical records and other aspects of their everyday life.”

While the agency routinely conducts worksite investigations to uphold federal law, HSI is currently carrying out its commitment to increase the number of I-9 audits in an effort to create a culture of compliance among employers, Benner said.

Immigration advocates said mass raids seem unlikely to happen here, at least short term.

“In order to do mass deportations, you need the collaboration from the state and local government,” LaZar said. “We have strong protections locally.”

During a rally at El Centro earlier this summer, Bernalillo County Commissioner Stephen Michael Quezada and Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton said no local resources would be used to help ICE carry out raids in the community. Both Albuquerque and Bernalillo County have “immigrant-friendly” policies in place limiting the use of resources and personal information available to ICE.

And actions by Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley in denying ICE’s request for access to state employment records would seem to indicate Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration also will not cooperate with ICE.

“They tried to do it with DWS, Department of Labor,” Landeros said. “We saw the governor and labor secretary say no, we’re not going to allow ICE to target our families because they see what our families bring to the state, all of the contributions that we give.”

Pearce, however, said Lujan Grisham’s administration appears to be “going down a slippery slope to score political points.”

Protections sought

Landeros, Martinez and Dorado-Mendoza said they are concerned because the local policies aren’t in state law. Because of the impact of ICE detentions on their families, they’ve become involved with organizations including El Centro and have worked for immigrant-friendly policies both locally and on the state level.

Legislation they supported on the state level failed last session, however.

“We’ve worked to pass policies where governments do not collaborate with ICE,” Dorado-Mendoza said. “That’s what would keep the Trump administration’s mass raids from happening. It’s important not to just happen on our local level, but our state level.”

LaZar said the decision about whether to assist ICE shouldn’t depend “on each secretary.”

“We need uniform policies across the state, because all New Mexicans should have expectations when they are interfacing with our government for any reason. They should have a reasonable expectation that information is safeguarded and that it remains confidential,” she said. “It’s important that all New Mexicans be able to trust local and state government agencies. And that has an impact from everything from public safety to public health.”

They said they will continue to fight for laws in next year’s 30-day legislative session which not only would limit cooperation with ICE, but protect personal information. LaZar said El Centro would also like to see the state move away from a dependence on private prison facilities like the one in Otero County that have been used to house people ICE has taken into custody.

Pearce, however, said it is Congress’ job, not state or local government’s, to address issues surrounding immigration.

He blames the problems the country is having now on Congress and past presidents’ failure to address the issue.

When Pearce was in Congress, he sponsored guest-worker legislation he thinks would have addressed some of the problems.

He also said he believes President Donald Trump has done more to work with Democrats on the issue than some Republicans have.

Spurring activism

Activities of immigrants involved with groups like El Centro won’t be limited to supporting immigrant-friendly policies in Santa Fe.

Dorado-Mendoza said immigrants in increasing numbers are working to become citizens and plan to be voting and supporting immigrant-friendly candidates in the 2020 elections.

Her family immigrated to the United States when she was 3, and she is in the process of applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

Dorado-Mendoza said immigrant groups are also trying to educate the community on the 2020 census. She’s concerned immigrants here illegally won’t participate out of fear ICE will use the information to carry out deportations.

“There is a fear ICE may try to use it,” she said. “That’s why we’re getting organized in the communities and working with other organizations and the city and the county to make sure everyone is counted. We’ve got to make sure our communities get the resources they deserve.”

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