The city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County are among the New Mexico jurisdictions that would lose federal funding under a bill targeting so-called “sanctuaries” for immigrants living in the country illegally.
The bill called the “Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act” passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 241-179 vote on Thursday.
The measure follows controversy set off by the recent death of a 32-year-old San Francisco woman allegedly killed by a Mexican national who had been deported to Mexico five times. He told a television station he came to San Francisco because he knew it to be a sanctuary city.
But Democrats in Congress are calling the measure “the Donald Trump Act” after the Republican presidential candidate’s recent inflammatory comments generalizing Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists while he assumes “some are good people.”
Santa Fe city and police law enforcement officers won’t arrest people for immigration violations and by policy don’t ask about immigration status.
Also, the county jail doesn’t honor “detainer” requests from federal immigration authorities, which would provide notice and extra jail time when purported immigration violators are to be released from incarceration.
Earlier this week, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales sent a letter to New Mexico’s congressional delegation urging them not to support the House proposal, which is an amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill. Police Chief Eric Garcia, Fire Chief Erik Litzenberg and Emergency Manager David Silver also signed the letter.
The letter says that, in the past four years, Santa Fe has received more than $650,000 in federal government grants used for SWAT programs, search and rescue operations, emergency incident command and regional preparedness exercises that could be lost if such a measure were to become law.
“Putting public safety at risk under the guise of fighting illegal immigration is a cynical move that cuts off our nose to spite our face,” the letter says. “It puts Americans and Northern New Mexicans in real danger for the sake of a political attack against immigrant families that are overwhelmingly hard-working and law-abiding, embodying the best of the American ideal.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, voted for legislation Thursday, saying it prioritizes federal assistance for those communities that follow federal law.
“We in New Mexico know firsthand the challenges of our broken and outdated immigration system,” Pearce said in a press release after the vote. “I will continue to advocate and push for common-sense and simple immigration reforms that will make our nation a stronger, safer, better place: from increasing border security, to modernizing our visa process to ensure the system supports and benefits only those who follow the rules.”
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, a Nambé Democrat, voted against it. He said the San Francisco shooting was heartbreaking and that violent offenders, U.S. citizens or otherwise, “should not be put back out on the street.”
But he said the Republican bill wouldn’t solve the problem. “Instead, it encourages policies that damage community policing by creating mistrust of police in immigrant communities. It takes away resources to hire more local law enforcement and it will discourage victims of domestic violence from reporting crimes if they have to fear deportation when they call the police.” New Mexico’s other House representative, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, did not cast a vote.
President Obama on Thursday promised to veto the bill if it were to reach his desk, saying it threatens civil rights by giving law enforcement agencies the authority to unjustifiably collect immigration status information on individuals.
A congressional summary of the sanctuary cities bill goes after funding for any state or local government with laws or policies restricting communication with federal authorities regarding an individual’s citizenship or immigration status or prohibiting state law enforcement officials from gathering information regarding an individual’s citizenship or immigration status.
Currently, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities can request “detainer” holds on incarcerated suspects deemed to be in the country illegally. Detainers keep an alleged offender behind bars for up to 48 hours, not counting weekends or holidays, after their scheduled release from jail so that Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials can take them into custody. But not all jurisdictions honor the requests.
Santa Fe County officials say they are not breaking federal law by not honoring ICE holds at the jail. The ICE detainer forms are “a request to detain and that’s what it is – a request,” Pablo Sedillo, public safety director for Santa Fe County, said.
Santa Fe County does not honor ICE detainers unless the individual is a convicted felon or if Homeland Security has deemed them a threat to national security. But if ICE, or a judge, places a criminal warrant on an incarcerated individual, the jail is mandated to honor that warrant.
County Commissioner Liz Stefanics said, “We don’t want any immigrants who are criminals hurting people in the community. But we also don’t want immigrants detained for no reason.”
The county policy simply states that the county jail “shall not honor ICE or (Customs and Border Protection) detainers.” Mark Caldwell, warden at the jail, said the jail hasn’t received a request for an ICE hold all year, although ICE has complained about the county’s policy in years past. Caldwell estimated that, in 2014, the jail received about 10 hold requests, none of which was honored.
No request for papers
Both the city police officers and the county sheriff’s deputies operate under policies against detaining individuals due to their immigration status and against asking suspects or anyone else about their immigration status. But former Santa Fe mayor David Coss, who served two four-year terms ending in 2012, says he never liked the term “sanctuary city.”
“I thought it wasn’t really accurate because ICE could still reach out and get you if you were in Santa Fe,” he said.
“The policy I followed while I was mayor dated back to 1998,” he said. “There was a resolution introduced by Councilor (Patti) Bushee that established the policy on ICE holds that I think passed unanimously and Santa Fe County adopted the same policy.”
Coss said it was important then, as it is now, to protect those who have migrated to the city. He said immigrant families make up about 10 percent of Santa Fe’s population, and are a critical component of the city’s workforce and economy.
“I’ve always been proud of the policies adopted by Santa Fe and Santa Fe County,” he said. “I think it’s been about aligning city policies with a more humane and practical approach to immigrant families, and not expending resources enforcing federal immigration law and a broken immigration policy that Congress refuses to fix.”
The policy against Santa Fe officers informing ICE or Homeland Security about suspects has exceptions. Santa Fe police Lt. Andrea Dobyns said that, “if during the course of our investigation it is learned that a subject may have an issue with their immigration status, in certain situations we will forward that information to DHS or ICE.”
Those certain situations include instances when someone is concealing their identity, cases of identity theft, violent crimes, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, or any other felonious crime, she said.
Mayor Gonzales’ letter to Congress says that Santa Fe believes public safety should focus on community policing, not enforcing federal immigration law.
He added that to punish “urban centers who have chosen to focus local public safety resources on local public safety issues will be exponentially more damaging, because it will rob these regional support centers of funding and reallocate it to areas with no regional role in, for example, emergency response or counter-terrorism operations.”
ICE holds not honored
The New Mexico Association of Counties reports that at least 24 of 28 county detention centers statewide no longer honor federal detainers and ICE has confirmed that “most of the jurisdictions in New Mexico do not honor ICE detainers.”
In 2012, Santa Fe County was singled out by ICE officials for being uncooperative with regard to detainer holds, and that had created a “strained and stressed” relationship between the county and ICE.
In an email to the Journal, ICE said this week it has come up with a new approach that prioritizes detainer requests. “The Department of Homeland Security is in the process of implementing a new initiative called the Priority Enforcement Program – PEP for short – which supports community policing while ensuring ICE takes custody of dangerous criminals before they are released into the community,” ICE’s statement said. “ICE is now issuing detainers and requests for notification with respect to individuals who meet our heightened enforcement priorities under PEP to ensure individuals who pose a threat to public safety are not released from prisons or jails into our communities.” The statement said PEP “places the focus where it should be: on criminals and individuals who threaten the public safety.”