Pro-immigrant groups, activists and community organizers held a vigil last Friday night to denounce the recent arrests carried out by immigration agencies in the city of Albuquerque.
The crowd, mostly made up by families united under their chant “Here To Stay!,” were finding refuge and peace after a week filled with anxiety and uncertainty for many who were present.
Since the beginning of the week, social media platforms were flooded with unconfirmed accounts and reports of raids being carried by ICE around the city. The widespread fear and commotion were sparked after immigration authorities confirmed an operation carried out in Chaparral, NM last Wednesday.
“We have been receiving a great number of unconfirmed reports of immigration raids and checkpoints around the city through social media,” said Felipe Rodríguez, field coordinator for the UNM Dream Team and NM Dream Team. He also advised the community that “sharing everything that is on social media isn’t’ always helpful. This might create more confusion and fear,” he said.
The wave of uncertainty made itself present in Albuquerque after stories spread of individuals being detained and arrested by immigration agents outside of District Court downtown. One of these stories is being corroborated by attorney and public defender, Craig Acorn, who learned of one of the individuals picked up by immigration agents was represented by NM Public Defenders.
Acorn recounts his client “had just appeared in District Court for his final setting before a trial, as mandated by the court,” for charges of trafficking controlled substances dating 2014. As his client made his way out of court, “he was detained by ICE agents and taken away,” he said.
In a recent interview by the local Telemundo affiliate regarding the possibility of ICE arrests in Albuquerque, Efrén Leyba Acevedo, the Mexican consul general in Albuquerque, confirmed ICE arrested five unidentified people on Thursday, Feb. 16.
For Sugey Hernández, and immigrant worker and mother to U.S. citizen children, the idea of having any interaction with immigration authorities “terrorizes” her. “For the first time In my 12 years of living and working in the U.S., I feel scared,” she said.
Her biggest fear comes from “not knowing what could happen to me every time I go to work,” she said. “My nine-year old tells me every day before going to school: ‘Mom please be careful and go straight from work to the house, I really don’t want something to happen to you’.”
Across the nation, ICE has undertaken large scale operatives that have detained and processed over 600 immigrants nationwide. These operations gained national attention not only due to their abruptness but also because of activists around the nation claiming immigration officials were no longer following priority enforcement guidelines.
On Nov. 20, 2014, former DHS’ Secretary Jeh Johnson, signed a memorandum creating the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). This program “narrows the category of individuals for whom DHS will seek transfer from Local Enforcement Agencies custody and prioritizes individuals who pose a threat to public safety,” according to the document. The memorandum guided ICE’s efforts into detaining an “individual [that] has been convicted of specifically enumerated crimes, has intentionally participated in criminal gang activity, or poses a danger to national security.”
In the years following the implementation of PEP, the number of removals by ICE agents has dropped. In 2014, according to the FY 2014 report by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a total of 315,943 removals. In FY 2015, the total number of removals was 235,413; a 24.5 percent decrease compared to the previous year. Most recently in their FY 2016, the number of removals totaled 240,255; a slight increase of 3 percent compared to FY 2015 but a 24 percent reduction in removals compared to FY 2014.
Since the implementation of PEP, pro-immigrant groups and activists have been fighting back against the program’s implementation.
“ICE has continuously been terrorizing our families and communities,” said Fabiola Bawden, community organizer for El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. According to Bawden, this sort of program only “excuses and encourages the criminalization of the immigrant community.”
Currently the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico(ACLU-NM), El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, and other local organizations are working together on creating what they call “rapid response teams”. María Martínez Sánchez, staff attorney with ACLU-NM, stated the collaboration “aims at creating a plan of action for families in emergency situations” such as a raid or deportation attempt. A hotline is also on the works.
“The ACLU will continue to fight for immigrants’ rights and everyone here tonight is ready and willing to fight for each others’ rights,” Sánchez said.
In the meantime, Hernández can only “hope things get better” but she advises others in her community to “get involved with local organizations and to learn their rights even though the fight will not be easy.”
Isaac J. De Luna is the Communications Director for Listo NM.