LAS CRUCES — On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald Trump vowed to cut federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities,” localities that restrict their police agencies’ involvement in enforcing immigration laws.
Now that the election has come and gone and Trump will take office in January, questions arise about what that could mean for the local area. Doña Ana County and possibly the city of Las Cruces could be viewed as sanctuary communities, depending how one defines the term.
There’s no fixed definition of a sanctuary city or county, and various maps purporting to list them on the internet sometimes include Doña Ana County and sometimes don’t. The city of Las Cruces usually doesn’t appear. But generally the term attempts to label communities that are the least amenable to carrying out enforcement of federal immigration statutes.
A look at Doña Ana County
Doña Ana County government has two immigrant-friendly policies that could open it up to scrutiny by the Trump administration. In 2014, commissioners passed a “Safe Communities” measure that applied to the county’s more than 800 employees, including those within the county sheriff’s department.
The measure prohibits county employees from:
requesting information about or “transmitting information regarding” the immigration status of a person.
stipulating county services or benefits upon immigration status.
including on application forms, such as for benefits or services, questions about immigration standing.
helping or “cooperating, in one’s official capacity, with any (U.S.) Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection investigation, detention or arrest procedures, public or clandestine, relating to alleged violations of the civil provisions of federal immigration law.”
Then-Sheriff Todd Garrison claimed his employees already were not working to enforce federal immigration laws. But some immigrants claimed and immigrant advocates otherwise.
In past years, the sheriff’s department had been involved in temporarily detaining people deputies suspected of possibly being in the country illegally, said County Manager Julia Brown. Deputies carrying out traffic stops, for instance, would hold someone to allow federal authorities a chance to arrive at the scene and apprehend a person.
However, Brown said Garrison had stopped that practice even before the county commission passed its 2014 resolution.
“That’s not the job of city and county law enforcement to do the job of federal law enforcement,” she said. “If the president-elect thinks that something different should be happening or that we need more people patrolling our section of the border, then I would hope that they were either hire more people at customs or Border Patrol or that they would dispatch people from other places to work here if they believe there need to be more (federal personnel) here.”
Continued Brown: “We’re not a sanctuary for anybody; we just refuse to abridge people’s rights,” she said.
Advocates for immigrants have argued policies such as Doña Ana County’s help to build immigrants’ trust in local law enforcement so that witnesses to — or victims of — crimes aren’t afraid to step forward for fear of being deported. Domestic violence advocates have highlighted, for instance, that a person’s immigration status is sometimes used as leverage by an abuser against a romantic partner to keep him or her from reporting the crime.
Doña Ana County Undersheriff Ken Roberts said the county commission’s policy didn’t have much effect on the department’s actions.
“My officers were never out enforcing immigration laws or tracking people down to begin with,” he said. “As far as us being an immigrant service, that was never an issue for us.”
Roberts said County Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil will be watching to see if any changes happen with the start of the Trump administration. He noted grants both in the sheriff’s department and in other county departments could be jeopardized, but he’s not overly concerned about the possibility. Roberts said that, should conditions change on the federal level, “I trust the commissioners coming in have the ability to do what’s best for the county.”
“I trust the new commissioners coming in, and I trust in Sheriff Vigil’s leadership and ties to the community and that everybody involved will take the necessary paths to make sure the county is well-taken care of in terms of border crime and that it also is financially soluble,” he said. “I think that we’ll be fine.”
A majority — three of five members — of the Doña Ana County Board of County Commissioners will change after newly elected commissioners take office Jan. 1.
A relatively large federal grant — Operation Stonegarden — the sheriff’s department receives pays for patrols meant to counter crime along the border. It’s not aimed at immigration enforcement, though, county officials said. Rather, it pays for overtime for the department to target drug-trafficking, human trafficking, gun smuggling.
Roberts said the grant is in the $800,000 per-year range and also benefits other police departments in the county.
Some grants received by DASO come from the state, but originate wholly or partly from federal funding, such as the 100 Days and Nights summer patrol initiative or anti-DWI efforts, Roberts said.
Brian Erickson, border policy strategist for the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights in Las Cruces, said restricting local law enforcement’s involvement in immigration enforcement has a practical benefit of encouraging immigrants to trust law enforcement, which promotes public safety overall. But it also discourages racial profiling by police, he said.
“A police depart can and probably should set internal policies about limiting their collaboration with the Border Patrol,” he said.
Erickson said his organization supported Doña Ana County’s Safe Communities initiative. He said Trump’s remarks are “on the radar,” but it’s too soon to know what they might translate into once the president takes office.
Ceasing ‘ICE’ holds
A second directive by the county manager’s office, also issued in 2014, ended a Doña Ana County Detention Center policy of carrying out immigration or “ICE holds,” in which people jailed at the detention center would be held at the request of federal immigration officials they were in the country illegally. Doña Ana County faced a lawsuit in 2013 for detaining without justification two women who faced misdemeanors. Overall, an estimated 70,000 immigrants were living illegally in New Mexico in 2012, a decline of about 20,000 from 2009, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. That accounted for 3.4 percent of total residents in the state at the time.
“Obviously, if they have a warrant or a court order, we will honor that,” said County Manager Julia Brown, of federal requests. “But just to call up and say: ‘Hey, will you hold somebody for us?’ We don’t think that’s an appropriate employees.”
The detention center is the main facility local governments across the county, including the city of Las Cruces, take people who’ve been arrested for crimes.
There isn’t a formal estimate about how many immigrants living illegally in the U.S. are in Doña Ana County. However, if the same statewide percentage is applied to Doña Ana County’s population of about 214,300 people, that would mean about 7,300 people were living in the county without documentation.
Asked if there could be ramifications to county grants as a result of a possible sanctuary-city label, Brown acknowledged it could be a possibility, if the federal government were to implement “some criteria that is not objective” in awarding grants.
“The federal grants we have are to do a particular project or initiative,” she said. “And we do those in accordance with the terms of conditions of the grant and we do them well, without fraud, or without neglect or incompetence. And if they’re awarding grants on the basis of competitive applications and merits, then we will continue to get those grants.”
City of Las Cruces
Unlike Doña Ana County, the Las Cruces City Council hasn’t passed a policy akin to Doña Ana County’s Safe Communities initiative.
“The city of Las Cruces is not a sanctuary city, nor do I support becoming one,” said Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima. “The Las Cruces Police Department does not enforce federal regulation or immigration laws. … If a person is pulled over they will not be asked for their citizenship.”
LCPD does have an administrative policy stating that the “enforcement of federal immigration laws and the arrest of undocumented foreign nationals reside exclusively with the federal government.”
“LCPD employees are not authorized to detain or arrest any person solely on the basis of their nationality or ethnicity, unless such characteristics are part of a physical description provided by a credible witness and such description, in context of the totality of the circumstance, warrant a detention or arrest for a non-immigration criminal act,” the policy states.
The policy details how officers should address immigration issues, such as by not seeking proof of a person’s immigration status and by referring any residents with immigration-related complaints to federal authorities.
However, the policy does allow LPDD officers to call federal immigration authorities to the scene of a “detention or investigation” when a person there self-discloses his or her immigration status, according to the policy.
Diana Alba Soular may be reached at 575-541-5443, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AlbaSoular on Twitter.
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