LAS CRUCES — Federal authorities carried out an immigration-related raid in Las Cruces on Wednesday, sparking a demonstration that blocked part of Main Street for about 45 minutes.
News of the raid stirred anxiety among the immigrant community of Doña Ana County.
While raids carried out by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement — or ICE — are nothing new, immigrant advocates expressed concerns that Wednesday’s actions may be a shift in enforcement activities to expanding the scope of people targeted by the agency. Advocates said the raid and others in the region represented the first local signs of enforcement activity following a Jan. 25 order by President Trump aimed at cracking down on undocumented immigration.
Immigrant advocates said they were aware of at least two people arrested in the region, but their families were not able to get information Wednesday regarding their whereabouts. Immigration officials released little information about the enforcement activities. Protesters said they took to the streets because of the lack of information from ICE.
A rally coordinated by NM CAFé, a faith-based activism group that has advocated for immigrant causes, took place Wednesday afternoon in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Las Cruces, attracting dozens of demonstrators. The rally ramped up in intensity after several speakers addressed attendees and then 30 people formed a line across Church Street, a heavily used street just west of the courthouse. Participants, led by an organizer with a bull horn, chanted several protest statements, including: “No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here” and “Up, up with liberation; down, down with deportation.” Others held signs and didn’t enter the street.
Leonel Briseño, a deacon with the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces, told rally attendees he’s concerned about the current ICE enforcement activities.
“I hope and pray the good people of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County will stand up and not be silent,” he told the group. “Because it’s when we’re silent that these things will happen. So we need to stand up for our brothers and our sisters. It’s part of our Christian call to stand up for those in need.”
Some drivers of the first vehicles that encountered the line of protesters began honking, but the demonstrators remained in place. The group then walked north on the street to the intersection of North Main Street and Picacho Avenue, passing Las Cruces City Hall. Three Las Cruces Police Department officers on motorcycles arrived, followed by additional units. The officers didn’t attempt to stop protesters, but began rerouting traffic. At one point, a protester was pushed by a truck that was attempting to turn right on to Picacho Avenue from North Main Street.
Demonstrators sat down in the street, forming a line across the south side of the intersection. And LCPD command staff began talking with protest organizers, including NM CAFé Executive Director Sarah Silva. One officer told protesters they were welcome to protest, but not on city streets because blocking traffic posed a safety hazard.
“I wish you guys would have let us know,” LCPD Lt. Kiri Daines, who oversees traffic operations, said.
Police Chief Jaime Montoya spoke with Silva and other organizers. Demonstrators said they were protesting because ICE wasn’t responding to requests for information. LCPD officials responded saying it wasn’t their jurisdiction to enforce federal immigration laws.
Soon after, the demonstrators moved to Albert Johnson Memorial Park, just southeast of the intersection. LCPD officers then opened the street for traffic again.
Montoya said protesters, because they cooperated with officers, won’t be facing any citations.
“What people are doing here is exercising their right to protest, if they don’t agree,” he said in an impromptu news conference. “We don’t have a problem with that, but please do it in a responsible manner. Go to a park, off the road. My biggest fear is that when something like this happens, there’s a possibility they might get hurt. There’s an allegation that one of the protesters may have gotten hit by a car while in the middle of the road. And that’s one thing we’re going to be following up on, as well.”
Montoya said LCPD found out about the ICE raid after media requests for information began reaching his agency. LCPD didn’t have any involvement in the raid itself, he said.
Asked if she thought the demonstration was effective, Silva replied: ”We’ll know if we can figure out who ICE picked up today and where they’re being detained. And if our elected leaders will also work to push ICE to release their names. Because no one has been able to locate their family members.”
In response to concerns by some Las Crucens about protesters having blocked traffic, Silva said the protesters’ actions were meant “to get the word out that in our own community, people are being detained and deported.
“I’m upset that families are being separated every day and children are being left abandoned without parents,” she said.
One family affected by the raid contacted Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico after a family member was arrested by ICE on Wednesday morning, said Imelda Maynard, staff attorney for the nonprofit, which offers legal assistance in immigration cases. The man lived in Las Cruces.
“He was on his way to work,” she said. “He was in his driveway about to leave when ICE showed up.”
Immigration raids did happen under the Obama administration, but apprehensions focused on certain priorities, such as people with criminal allegations or charges, Maynard said. But what seemed different about Wednesday’s circumstances was that authorities weren’t actually seeking the man who ended up being arrested. They had a warrant for another person, who wasn’t present in the home. After the family told authorities the sought-after person wasn’t present, she said, ICE asked everyone there for their identification.
The man arrested did not have legal status, but he also didn’t have any criminal allegations against him, Maynard said. She said she doesn’t believe he would have been detained under the Obama administration. Or, if he’d been detained, he likely would have been released.
ICE confirmed Wednesday that agents conducted a raid in Las Cruces to apprehend immigrants who had been convicted of crimes or ordered deported by an immigration court.
The federal agency’s spokeswoman in El Paso, Leticia Zamarripa, said additional resources and personnel were used during the enforcement operation. She said the operation was conducted “to apprehend deportable foreign nationals.” She did not confirm the location or provide further details of the operation or say whether more were planned in the future.
Fernando Garcia, executive director for the Border Network for Human Rights, which advocates for immigrants in Doña Ana County, said the reports that organization has received is that ICE “knocked on several doors, not just one. When you have a warrant, you go to just one.”
Also, Garcia said, in addition to Las Cruces, he’d received reports of enforcement activity in Chaparral and east El Paso. But advocates don’t know the extent of the activities being carried out by ICE.
“They have the obligation to tell us why they are doing these actions,” he said. “We’re very concerned they’re going after people who don’t have a criminal background. This Trump administration, they are expanding the definition of who’s a criminal. … We’re concerned they’re just throwing a wide net.”
Sister Diana Wauters of the Assumption Sisters in Chaparral checked on a claim that immigration enforcement had been carried out at Chaparral High School. But she didn’t find any evidence that actions had taken place.
“I went in and I talked to the principal, and they hadn’t been aware of any ICE agents (at the school),” she said.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a statement he was “extremely troubled by what we’re hearing in New Mexico and across the country.”
“I want clearer answers about whether these immigration actions are a result of stepped up enforcements because of President Trump’s immigration order — ICE and the administration need to explain what’s going on, how they are making decisions about what actions to take, and why. This is an example of the serious consequences of the president’s executive order, which categorizes all undocumented immigrants as criminals. That approach is totally counterproductive — we should be putting maximum law enforcement resources toward getting dangerous criminals out of our communities.”
Eight Democratic Doña Ana County-based state lawmakers signed a letter Wednesday to Gov. Susana Martinez expressing concerns about the ICE activities. In particular, they said they’re asking Martinez to seek reassurances from federal authorities that immigration enforcement not take place at “sensitive locations,” such as schools, hospitals and churches.
Immigrant activism groups said they were fielding lots of calls about the ICE raids. Even immigrants with legal status are anxious, they said.
“They’re freaked out,” said Maynard. “There’s fears from even people who are here legally. It’s causing widespread chaos.”
Immigrant advocates said they were informing people about their civil rights, such as that they don’t have to open their doors to authorities unless an officer has a search warrant signed by a judge. And, if detained, a person has the right to remain silent and to have an attorney.
Anthony, New Mexico, city trustee Fernie Herrera said he expected the issue of immigration enforcement to arise in a city meeting on Wednesday evening after hearing a lot of concerns.
“I know there are some people here in Anthony that are afraid to step out of their houses,” he said. “We … will ask the police chief and mayor if we are sanctioning such raids.”
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