It's not a policy or a policy change, says Mayor Richard Berry. Instead, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement setting up shop in the newly refurbished Prisoner Transport Center is an agreement. In fact, he says, the old policy is still in place that only allows Albuquerque Police Department officers to check into someone's immigration status if it's relevant to an investigation. But that’s not the case for the feds. Every single person arrested by APD or the county sheriff who ends up at the transport center in downtown Albuquerque will have their immigration status evaluated by ICE. "I want 100 percent of the people checked," Berry says in an interview. "I want racial profiling out of the equation."
ICE has been in the Prisoner Transport Center since May 10. The new processing procedure doesn't cost the city any money, according to spokesperson T.J. Wilham. Though the timing of the announcement was bad given Arizona's controversy, it couldn't be avoided, he adds. The center was just renovated, and the ICE deal has been in the works for months.
Gov. Bill Richardson, who's been outspoken in national media against SB 1070, wouldn't comment on Berry's move as of press time. But on Tuesday. May 18, it was reported that the governor ordered the Children, Youth and Families Department to report violent juvenile criminals who are citizens of other countries to ICE.
"I want 100 percent of the people checked. I want racial profiling out of the equation."
Mayor Richard Berry
City Councilors Rey Garduño and Ken Sanchez decried Berry’s plan and carried a resolution at the Monday, May 17 Council meeting to rescind it. They also proposed a boycott of city contracts or services from Arizona. Both failed in 5-4 votes. [See Council Watch for more.]
Jose Armas is the co-chair of the Latino/Hispano Education Improvement Task Force that works with the state's Department of Education. He says it's unfortunate that Albuquerque's mayor has chosen to "make political hay out of a tragic situation that's happening in this country, all being accelerated by what was passed in Arizona."
But Berry wants to make one distinction clear: This isn't an immigration issue; it's a public safety issue. Though he agrees that the majority of immigrants in Albuquerque are law-abiding citizens, this procedure keeps the streets of Albuquerque safe. "Whether you're born and raised here or part of the immigrant community, no one wants to be a victim of crime," he says.
Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, says he's concerned the plan will erode trust between police and immigrants in Albuquerque. (That's a concern in Arizona, too, according to Phoenix New Times reporter Stephen Lemons, and in fact law enforcement agencies have criticized the incoming law for that reason.) It's possible, says Simonson, for innocent people and victims of crime to be detained. He emphasizes that someone who is arrested has not been convicted of a crime. Though not an everyday occurrence, it’s not uncommon for police to respond to a domestic violence call and not be able to distinguish between the abuser and the victim and arrest both parties, he adds. "That sets up a situation where an immigrant victim of domestic violence is being treated like a criminal."
"There are the same prospects for unlawful detentions and the same prospects for racial profiling."
Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU-NM
Berry says the mixed messages being sent to the public are detrimental. He says the ICE agreement won’t harass victims or witnesses. He wants people to feel safe coming forward about crimes they've experienced or seen, he adds. "Unless you find yourself under arrest at the Prisoner Transport Center, that's where ICE is. Our officers are still out there to protect the community."
Simonson says Berry’s move is the first example of Arizona’s anti-immigration stance invading New Mexico. The laws are similar in that they filter a broad swath of people, he says, some of whom might be innocent of any crime or live in the United States legally. "There are the same prospects for unlawful detentions," Simonson says, "and the same prospects for racial profiling." And what's to keep officers from making arrests they normally wouldn't make in an effort to weed out undocumented immigrants? he asks.
Berry says he has tremendous faith in the Albuquerque Police Department. "You're giving us hypothetical situations that don't have anything to do with our policy," Berry says. "Judge us on the agreement that we made. We are going to keep an eye on it and we assume everyone else will be keeping an eye on it as well, and that's fair."