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Santa Fe mayor wants ICE to back off

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber has asked federal authorities to stop verifying employee eligibility status as part of immigration enforcement activities during the current public health emergency.

“We call on federal immigration officials to halt these audits,” Webber said in a statement Thursday. “Immigrants living in Santa Fe, like so many others in our community, are already feeling tremendous anxiety about their personal health and loss of income as result of COVID-19. Now they are threatened with the possibility of being deported and separated from their families by ICE. This only makes an uncertain and precarious situation worse, and it needs to stop immediately.”

Marcela Diaz, executive director of the immigrant rights group Somos un Pueblo Unido, told the Journal on Friday that Somos has learned that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents visited at least six restaurants in Santa Fe and one in Taos to inspect I-9 forms. Employers keep those documents to prove that their employees are eligible to work in the U.S.

Diaz said undocumented workers are now scared to go to work for fear of being deported. She also said undocumented workers who are laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic won’t qualify for federal assistance, and it’s unclear whether they are eligible for state unemployment benefits.

Department of Workforce Solutions spokeswoman Stacy Johnston told the Journal this week that any non-U.S. citizen who was recently laid off is encouraged to apply for unemployment benefits so the department can determine whether they qualify.

One Santa Fe restaurant owner said ICE agents came to his restaurant last week to inspect the I-9 forms. Since then, he said, he had to close this week because not enough employees came to work.

“They’re just scared about it,” he said. “We’re talking about good workers, you know, and they don’t want to put themselves at risk.”

The Department of Homeland Security announced Friday that it will be flexible with physical inspection requirements during the national health emergency. It said earlier this week that any businesses notified in March about an inspection will have a 60-day extension to respond.

“These audits were planned months in advance and executed prior to widespread concerns about the pandemic,” an ICE spokesperson said in an email.

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