According to a U.S. District Court criminal complaint filed Sept. 9, SFPD Detective Matthew Martinez, who is also head of the police union, contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation officer Matthew D. Salcido on Sept. 4 after seeing 24-year-old Jorge Serrano-Nevarez at Fort Marcy Park during the burning of Zozobra.
Serrano-Nevarez, a Mexican national, was convicted of two fourth-degree felony counts of conspiracy to receive or transfer a stolen vehicle in 2011 under the name “Jorge Serrano” and was physically removed to Mexico in May.
Salcido then conducted a records check on Serrano-Nevarez and found that he was in the country illegally. Santa Fe police arrested Serrano-Nevarez on Sept. 23 after a federal warrant was issued.
Santa Fe’s City Council passed a resolution in 1999 that says “no municipal resources will be used to identify or apprehend any nonresident on the sole basis of immigration status, unless otherwise lawfully required to do so.”
It also says no one “will be held on immigration charges unless an outstanding warrant alleging criminal violations issued by a federal entity exists.”
Although officers did not arrest Serrano-Nevarez until a federal warrant was issued, Martinez’s actions caused the warrant to be created, raising questions as to whether he violated the 16-year-old resolution. SFPD Lt. Andrea Dobyns said Martinez did nothing wrong and was only checking if Serrano-Nevarez had a federal arrest warrant when he contacted Salcido.
But Mabel Arrellanes, 30-year-old cousin to Serrano-Nevarez and a law school student at the University of New Mexico, contends that Martinez knew her cousin well and has a grudge against him.
Martinez was the detective on the case in which Serrano-Nevarez received his felony convictions, and Arrellanes told the Journal that Martinez was subpoenaed to testify in Serrano-Nevarez’s deportation hearing in El Paso in 2013. That could not be confirmed with another source as of press time.
“I can assure you 100 percent that (Martinez) was there,” Arrellanes said.
Dobyns said the incident was reviewed by interim Chief Patrick Gallagher and the command staff and no infractions were found.
“Because (Martinez) was one of the detectives when he (Serrano-Nevarez) was deported, he knew he was deported and then called,” Dobyns said. “He wasn’t checking on the guy’s (immigration) status. He was checking for a federal warrant. There was absolutely no policy violation. He called about a criminal he knew wasn’t supposed to be here. If he was here, he did come back illegally.”
She then added: “We will never go up to someone and ask for their immigration status.” Martinez chose not to speak with the Journal about the case.
A notification issued by former SFPD Chief Ray Rael said, in regard to foreign nationals: “Except in exigent circumstances, cooperation with (Department of Homeland Security)/ICE or Border Patrol must be approved by a commander.” Dobyns said Martinez didn’t need a supervisor’s approval to contact Salcido because he was inquiring about an arrest warrant and not immigration status.
Serrano-Nevarez has a court history in Santa Fe under several aliases. He was booked into the Santa Fe County jail for possession of drug paraphernalia in 2009 under the name “Juan Mariscal” and pled no contest to several counts of driving without a license in 2010 as Jorge Serrano before his felony conviction in 2011.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, but he issued a written statement through city spokesmen Matt Ross in which he said the city will continue to be immigrant-friendly, but added that individuals involved in criminal activity should not find shelter here.
“I’ve spoken with Chief Gallagher, who assured me his support of the City’s long-standing policy, and I’m also talking with the immigrant community to sit down face to face and talk this through. My message to them is the same. I want folks to know we are as committed as ever to making sure we follow our policy and do not use local resources to enforce a broken federal immigration law or to deport the hard-working, law-abiding immigrants who come here to build a better life for themselves and their families.
“But we’re also not going to let a well-intended and progressive policy be misinterpreted in a way that puts public safety at risk by sheltering individuals we know to be active in the criminal world.”
Arrellanes, a member of the immigrants’ rights group Somos un Pueblo Unido, said Serrano-Nevarez was staying out of trouble after he returned to the United States, helping take care of their grandmother in Santa Fe and volunteering at the Salvation Army. She now fears that SFPD will target undocumented immigrants.
“He and the entire department are going to use resources against people in Santa Fe that have trusted police for years,” Arrellanes said. “(Martinez) was supposed to follow the policy that Santa Fe has adopted for many years. Jorge was not doing anything wrong. He was behaving well.
“The community is scared. Growing up in Santa Fe is not easy for minority kids. We grew up very poor.”
Arrellanes believes Martinez has something personal against her cousin because of past run-ins, and she thinks that led him to pick up the phone and alert federal authorities to his whereabouts.
“I respect the work the officers do,” she said. “But I think the officer took it upon himself for personal motives, and I think the community deserves to know. I don’t think removing Jorge when he was doing nothing wrong was protecting the community.”
Santa Fe has tried to be recognized as an immigrant-friendly city for several years. In 1985, the city created a resolution that it would be a safe haven for refugees fleeing from El Salvador and Guatemala. In 2014, the city called on the federal government to stop expanding family detention centers as thousands of people, mostly unaccompanied children, were fleeing Central America for the United States, and city leaders urged New Mexico’s congressional delegation to close the immigrant detention center in Artesia. On April 2, the city resolved that its governing body “bans the use of city funds for travel not essential to public health and safety to areas that have implemented policies of discrimination.”