President Trump’s administration this month began publishing a weekly report of local and state law enforcement agencies that have refused to detain people so that federal agents can determine their legal status.
But a federal judge in New Mexico recently approved a settlement that prohibits the San Juan County jail from doing just that - holding inmates past their release date at the request of federal agents.
This stems from a lawsuit filed in 2014 by Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group.
Communications Director Neza Leal spoke with KUNM’s Chris Boros.
KUNM: Who took who to court and why?
Leal: This lawsuit was originally filed in 2014 by immigrant families in San Juan County who were having their civil rights violated by the jail – by being held beyond the time that was authorized by a judge solely based on an immigration detainer or a request by ICE to investigate their immigration status.
KUNM: What does this mean for the San Juan Country jail and how they treat people are being held there?
Leal: It’s unfortunate that the federal government continues to intimidate local jails and local governments into violating the civil rights of their residents. These requests by ICE or immigration officials to local jails are not legally bound, meaning that local jails do not have to honor them whatsoever.
KUNM: Gov. Susana Martinez ordered state prison officials to cooperate with federal immigration agents and two weeks ago, after a request from ICE, the state Corrections Department presented a list of foreign born prisoners. Does this court ruling affect what the state can do?
Leal: The governor has been instructing the corrections department to do this for many years so the practice here is not new – the announcement is new. And what’s happening across the country and here in New Mexico is that local jails and communities are proactively passing polices that prevent this sort of thing from happening.
KUNM: The Obama administration focused on deporting people who had been convicted of crimes and President Trump has broadened that. Isn’t it a good thing to deport dangerous convicted criminals?
Leal: The thing with these requests is that in many cases it was individuals who were arrested for a traffic ticket. And so we want to be able to separate that local jails are not obligated by any means to honor these requests by ICE beyond what a judge orders. So we can separate what is civil immigration law and criminal justice.