Albuquerque has a number of rules in place governing how local law enforcement should handle immigration. But none of the city’s policies prevented two men from being escorted to the border after a traffic stop this summer.
Aviation Police Chief Marshall Katz was driving his take-home car on July 9 when he stopped Ramon Eduardo Dorado Mendoza for traveling at 75 in a 55 mph zone. Mendoza was on I-25 near the Lead and Coal exit.
Katz’ belt tape video recorded the July 9 incident and was released on Monday, Dec. 13. During the initial conversation, Mendoza disputed that he was driving 75 mph. He handed over his driver’s license, insurance and registration. Another aviation officer, Eldon Martinez, arrived, and Katz asked him to check the license. Martinez then informed Katz there was a problem.
According to the tape, Mendoza was questioned by the two officers about his Social Security number and legal status.
Officers: How long have you had your driver’s license?
Mendoza: ... I was 16, four years.
Officers: Do you have your SS card?
Mendoza: No, I don’t have it with me.
Officers: Do you know your Social Security number?
Mendoza: I don’t know. My mom ... [garbled]
Officers: Where were you born?
Mendoza: In Mexico.
Officers: Are you a legal citizen?
Officers: Who’s in the vehicle with you?
Mendoza: My sister.
Officers: How old is she?
Officers: Is she a legal citizen?
Mendoza was detained while Katz called custom authorities at the airport. Border Patrol agents arrived on the scene of the traffic stop and arrested Mendoza along with his father, Ramon Dorado Gallardo, who had shown up in the interim. Mendoza and his father were escorted to the border that day. Mendoza’s sister and their mother, who had also arrived, were allowed to leave.
The aviation police work primarily at the Sunport. They’re not affiliated with APD and have their own standard operating procedures, though the department is overseen by the city. An Albuquerque City Council resolution passed in 2000 states that no municipal resources are to be used to identify a person’s immigration status or apprehend people solely on the basis of immigration status.
City Councilor Rey Garduño says he viewed the video. “It is clear to me that the aviation officers engaged in questioning an individual about his citizenry and asked that that same individual speculate on the citizenry of another individual,” he says. This violates explicit rules established by the Council’s resolution, he says.
In late May when Mayor Richard Berry allowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement into the Prisoner Transport Center, the city assured that police procedures are specific. Albuquerque Police Department officers aren't allowed to question a person about immigration status unless it's relevant to a criminal investigation. The power to enforce immigration laws and arrest immigrants resides exclusively with the federal government, according to APD regulations. “Officers shall not stop, question, detain or arrest any person solely on the ground that they may be undocumented and deportable foreign nationals,” the arrest manual states.
Perhaps most pertinent to the Mendoza stop, officers “shall not call federal immigration officials to the scene of a stop or investigation, except in the case of suspected human trafficking.”
Public Safety Director Darren White said in early August that when officers have a suspicion about identity, they are within their rights to question people. City officials then refused to comment and would not release the belt tape or reports related to the incident until now.
On Dec. 13, White told the Alibi that a person doesn’t have to present a Social Security number to acquire a driver’s license, but he said asking someone for their Social Security number is a routine police question.
In this case, he says, Chief Katz didn’t believe Mendoza was telling the truth about his Social Security number. Since he suspected Mendoza was lying, Katz was within his rights to attempt to identify Mendoza, White said.
“You cannot take away an officer’s ability to check someone when they don’t think the information they are getting is correct,” White said. “ ... We don’t want our officers out there as a matter of routine asking people what their status is. But when you have somebody that you don’t think is being honest, is lying to you, I’d expect them to ask: Well, what’s the deal here? What have we got here? Why is he not being truthful to me?”
White said even though Mendoza admitted that he didn’t have papers, Katz was still unsure about his identity and wanted to find out if he was lying about anything else. White said that if undocumented immigrants are truthful with officers when questioned about their Social Security numbers, he is confident that they wouldn’t be further questioned about their immigration status.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “It happens every day in this community. The difference here is the young man lied.”
White did not explain how Katz determined Mendoza was lying, other than going on instinct.
Complicating matters further, the aviation police force operates under its own rule book. Katz reports directly to Aviation Director Jim Hinde, rather than APD Chief Ray Schultz. There are 38 aviation officers. But other than employees who have special vehicles to transport airport canines, Katz is the only officer with a take-home car, according to Aviation Deputy Chief Bob Szmania.
Szmania says the aviation police procedures don’t address immigration. White told the Alibi that his department has informed the aviation police that they need to update those procedures.
According to a report filed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency about the incident, Mendoza told them he was brought to the United States when he was 4 years old. He does not have any warrants or a criminal history.