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Dona Ana County officials can’t ask about immigration status

New Mexico’s most populous border county joined a national movement Tuesday prohibiting local officials from going out of their way to enforce federal immigration laws.

In a 5-0 vote, Dona Ana County commissioners approved a resolution to make the area a “safe county” and restrict county employees from asking residents about immigration status.

The move came after commissioners received a petition in February with 10,000 signatures and dozens of activists began attending board meetings.

The resolution, pushed by the advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights, calls for county departments and employees not to enforce federal immigration laws or use county resources for immigration purposes unless required by federal and state statutes.

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However, commission chair Billy Garrett cautioned that the measure didn’t address comprehensive immigration reform or change the status of anyone who may be in the country illegally.

“This is not about skirting the law,” Garrett said.

Dona Ana County Detention Center announced in June it would no longer honor requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain people for 48 hours while agents investigate their immigration status.

Until recently, it was common for ICE officials to ask counties to hold individuals brought in for traffic violations or other state or local infractions if the individual was suspected of not having proper immigration documents.

In April, a federal court ruled that a woman’s constitutional rights were violated after Oregon authorities kept her beyond her release date so she could be transferred to immigration agents.

Since then, counties across the nation have passed measures similar to the one in Dona Ana County or withdrawn from the voluntary ICE program.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa said last month, for example, that officials at 22 Iowa county jails have stopped accepting requests from federal immigration authorities to hold people in jail without a court order.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee said in July that the state’s Department of Corrections will no longer honor federal immigration detainers without a warrant.

In Pima County, an Arizona county along the border, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution earlier this year declaring Pima as an immigrant-friendly community. That resolution made no changes to county law but advocates say it was needed to distinguish itself from other recent Arizona laws some critics have deemed as anti-immigrant.

Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group, said the move by Dona Ana County was significant because it was more proactive than just halting ICE county detention and sent a message that the county welcomes immigrants.

Diaz said Taos County in northern New Mexico was one of the first in the nation to adopt a measure refusing to cooperate with ICE.


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