by Diana Alba Soular, Las Cruces Sun-News
February 16, 2017

LAS CRUCES — Immigrant advocates made some progress Thursday, learning the whereabouts of a Las Cruces immigrant without legal status whose arrest during a raid by ICE agents a day earlier sparked a high-profile protest.

The man is being held in the Doña Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, along with four other people also arrested Wednesday in Las Cruces and Vado by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

Meanwhile, officials at Las Cruces Public Schools sought to reassure parents that schools are still considered “sensitive locations” under ICE enforcement policies, meaning the agency avoids enforcement activities there unless extreme circumstances exist.

Two men from Vado and three men from Las Cruces were booked Wednesday into the Doña Ana County Detention Center, a facility that holds both local and federal detainees, according to county records. The men from Vado are facing allegations of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute it. The three Las Cruces men — including one whose family had sought legal help from Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico after the raid — are facing immigration charges, but don’t appear to be accused of other crimes, according to jail records.

Immigrant advocates expressed concerns about how the ICE enforcement operation was carried out in a Las Cruces mobile home park, saying parameters for the arrests appeared to be broader than under the Obama administration.

Imelda Maynard, staff attorney for Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico, said she was able to meet Thursday with the man whose family had been in contact with the nonprofit. That was after not being able to locate him a day earlier, following his arrest early Wednesday by ICE agents as he was preparing to leave for work.

Maynard said she wasn’t able to access his full federal paperwork regarding the charges against him, but it appears he’s “only there for unlawful status,” and not other crimes. He may have been previously deported from the country.

A USA Today analysis of recent immigration arrests found a shift in deportation strategies employed by the Trump administration compared to the Obama administration. Of 678 people rounded up in 12 states during raids last week, 74 percent had been convicted of a crime. That is down from 90 percent of detained people with criminal records in 2016 under Obama, according to the analysis of more than a dozen federal raids.

Even if the federal government didn’t intend to target immigrants without criminal records in the Las Cruces raid, “that was the end result,” Maynard said. She noted such enforcement actions can have different outcomes, seemingly on an operation by operation basis. And it may take more time to see a larger pattern locally.

Doña Ana County Detention Center Director Chris Barela said ICE booking people into the county detention center isn’t unusual. It can happen on a day-to-day basis, he said.

Immigrants also can be held at detention facilities across the region.

Roman Jimenez, chairman of the Doña Ana County Republican Party, noted that three-quarters of the immigrants arrested nationally in raids had criminal records.

“If that’s the percentage of individuals that were targeted and those were the ones arrested, I think that’ a positive thing for the communities in southern New Mexico,” he said.

Still, Jimenez said: “We don’t want to create an environment where the community is looking over their shoulders anticipating they may deported.”

Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Greg Ewing published a letter Thursday addressed to students and parents referencing the immigration raid of this week.

“There has been no event on any school campus, but we know this has caused heightened anxiety in our community,” he said. “I want all families to know that our school district’s number one priority is to keep our schools safe, secure and welcoming to all children who are enrolled, or plant to enroll, in our school system. We do not anticipate any ICE activity occurring on school campuses at this, or any, time.”

The letter was issued in both English and Spanish on the school’s website and on social media.

New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonprofit that promotes child well-being in the state, issued a statement Thursday expressing concerns about the immigration enforcement activity in southern New Mexico.

“Large, indiscriminate raids tear families apart and go against the very values that are set forth in our nation’s founding documents,” said James Jimenez, executive director of the organization, in a statement. “No matter where you’re born, our Constitution holds that we are all human beings and entitled to the same basic rights and respect — that includes right to due process.”

Maynard noted that immigrants, even if they don’t have legal status, are still entitled to civil rights.

Sarah Silva, executive director of NM CAFé, which coordinated Wednesday’s protest, said the group hadn’t heard of additional immigration raids. U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicles were seen in Vado, and there were reports of authorities knocking on doors, she said. But no one was arrested.

However, members of the nonprofit organization plan to visit communities throughout Doña Ana County to keep an eye out for additional immigration raids, Silva said.

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