Alibi V.29 No.8 • Feb 20-26, 2020 

On Assignment

Immigration, Crime, Barr and Burque

A backlash is noted in recent border news

Pat Davis and Klarissa Peña
Pat Davis and Klarissa Peña
Eric Williams Photography

This week’s top local story is a complicated affair. But moving forward, the narratives about immigration and crime must be addressed and solved in a progressive and sustainable fashion.

This story revolves around the immigrant-friendly status, declared and enforced by the city since 2018. That’s when the City Council, under the aegis of newly elected progressive powerhouse mayor Tim Keller, affirmed legislation that declared this town to be on the side of the tide of migrant families passing through or settling in Albuquerque.

That resolution means that here in Albuquerque, immigration status is not an issue for city officials interacting with an increasingly diverse local population. Subsequently, US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the US Border Patrol and the draconian policies of the current federal administration have had little impact on this city ... so far.

Just four years after that resolution’s implementation, the designation is causing trouble that reaches down from the aforementioned federal level, trouble that may prevent the city from accessing federal grants having to do with everything from increased police staffing to the testing of rape kit evidence. The relentless pursuit of criminals in Albuquerque means compliance with the strict immigration policies of the Trump administration, as overseen by Attorney General William Barr.

To leaders at the local level, the situation reeks of political manipulation—and may presage a dark vision of the authoritarian tactics the Trump administration may use going forward, toward re-election.

And so, this story has it all and is happening at many levels. The people involved range from frightened local immigrants who fear for their children to an Attorney General preparing to flex his muscles with post-impeachment power toward Albuquerque.

There are also a couple righteously upset city councilors, a county sheriff with political ambitions who’s hovering in Barr’s orbit and the possibility that future enforcement efforts will engage a federal SWAT-like force to deal with immigrants.

An upsurge in Albuquerque ICE arrests this past couple weeks must be reckoned with in story whose main subplot has to do with a mischaracterized rise in violent crime in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

In fact, crime in Duke City, N.M. is such a pressing background issue, that the US Attorney for the District of New Mexico recently penned an op-ed for the local daily that suggested compliance with Trump’s immigration laws is the most prudent and practical path forward for Albuquerque and the nation.

So hold on to your horses as Weekly Alibi explores the latest in a news story practically guaranteed to keep you thinking about fighting crime, the nature of immigration, due process, democracy and our own ineluctable connection to the border that lies 250 miles south of Downtown.

In order to get a better handle on this complex, culture-changing series of events, Weekly Alibi spoke with a number of city and government leaders on the subject, including City Councilors Pat Davis and Klarissa Peña, as well as reaching out—with no success as of press time—to US Attorney John C. Anderson.

Immigrant Friendly

A glance through city records reveals that this current immigration imbroglio can be traced—for good or bad—to a decision the Albuquerque City Council made back in April of 2018.

In an official press release addressing the matter, Councilor Peña writes, “As stated in Resolution 18-07 passed by [the] City Council and signed by the Mayor in May 2018, I uphold the City of Albuquerque’s right to create a safe city for all its residents and reaffirm our commitment to civil rights regardless of immigration status.”

According to Peña, “the 2018 resolution is just a re-affirmation. It’s not something that I originally put forward. Brad Winter put the original resolution forward in 2000. I was just reaffirming what he had already established.”

Councilor Davis essentially agreed with his colleague but added, “We clarified that specifically people were welcome at city facilities. But you’ll recall that former Mayor Berry used what he called a loophole in the resolution to allow ICE agents into the city prisoner transport center. His reasoning was that it wasn’t a jail and it’s not at a public building, either.”

Berry’s acquiescence to federal immigration authorities seeking access to arrest and detention records for possible actionable items was put aside when his tenure ended and the new administration quickly moved away from such questionable policies.

Davis added, “In the newest reaffirmation, which we joined together in 2018 to present to the council to say we have a long history of this. But we’re going to close the loophole that Berry was using to let ICE in. And we’re explicitly going to say anyone is welcome to engage with the city—whether it’s through an after-school program or to come to City Council meetings—without concern or fear. Importantly, we just told the new administration and mayor that we must be sure to review all of our policies to make sure that we are not accidently creating a list that could be targeted by ICE.”

The resolution effectively brands Albuquerque as an immigrant-friendly city. Although not officially a sanctuary city, our municipal government, through the aforementioned policy, not only affords immigrants the agency to act as members of the community, it also enhances protections for individual privacy for all residents of Albuquerque.

There has been support from citizens for those measures. Last year the city and many of its people rallied to help migrants from Latin America on their way through the asylum process. The city even put aside a quarter of a million dollars to facilitate the safety and care of such travelers through the Duke City.

Crime

But in the meantime, crime, especially violent crime, has risen in Albuquerque, leading some to blame the immigrants who are either traveling through town or have settled in Albuquerque for the uptick. This perception exists despite the fact that, as Davis noted, “property crime has actually decreased.”

Although city leaders have spoken to such successes as well as the root causes of criminality in general—and have undertaken vast reconfigurations of the way the city does things, from managing homelessness and addiction to establishing a plan for community policing—undocumented immigrants continue to bear the brunt. This is especially true on the right, where drastic changes in immigration policy have caused children to be separated from their parents and political dissidents to be returned to Central America to face certain death.

To Councilor Peña, it all comes down to history. Although she says Latin American immigrants tend to be scapegoats when it comes to criminality in our community, the reality is, she told Weekly Alibi, “[that] the root causes of issues we have in our community have to do with poverty, but not so much anymore. The socioeconomic lines of drug addiction have blurred everything. It’s everywhere. We are pointing a finger one way when we should be looking at some of the other stuff.”

Federal Money

Of course much of that other stuff referred to by Peña means programs to ameliorate the underlying problems, programs that cost big money. A lot of times, funding for such wide-reaching, society-changing programs requires more money that a city or state has in order to see genuine progress.

That’s where the federal government comes in. With income streams far more lofty and solvent than anything available at the state or local level, federal funding can sometimes make the difference between the success or failure of local projects based in law enforcement.

At the end of this year, the Department of Justice announced a new federal law enforcement initiative called Operation Relentless Pursuit. US Attorney General Barr included Albuquerque on the list of cities that informed the creation of Relentless Pursuit and said that cities on the list would be eligible for up to $71 million in grant funding if they partner with the Feds on such law and order efforts.

But therein lies the rub. To be eligible for the grants, applicant cities have to be compliant with current federal immigration directives. In fact, this year the Trump administration has made blatant efforts to defund sanctuary and immigrant-friendly cities throughout the US.

Relentless Pursuit

Peña’s idea that leaders should be looking at root causes instead of lashing out at productive local residents doesn’t seem to jibe with Donald Trump’s Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Barr. Barr and his representatives have been busy in Albuquerque since November, making Relentless Pursuit a thing while actively threatening to withhold crime-fighting funds unless local leaders repeal the Duke City’s prized and profound immigrant-friendly status.

Davis told Weekly Alibi that the city wasn’t even invited to Barr’s press conferences, saying, “This Attorney General has really taken justice into a new political era. They show up in our city, they want to attack Albuquerque for having what they perceive as high crime rates—without acknowledging that our property crime rates are going down, our incarceration rates are going down, our treatment center numbers are going up—all because we’re making progress on behavioral health. They’re speaking out of two sides of their mouth.”

Asked to explain, Davis clarified his statement, adding, “On one side they say, ‘Working with DOJ, we’ve created the best community policing program in the country. We’re listening to our residents!’ But at the same time, they show up and have a press conference with the county sheriff where they don’t listen to what our people want. I think that’s blatantly political. No one believes for a moment that they are going to cut this grant check to the city of Albuquerque because they’re using the DOJ as a political weapon. We will not play along with that.”

DOJ

In a game that’s more about submission to the man than it is about progressive change toward sustainability, Davis notes: “Don’t forget this is about the DOJ saying, ‘Hey, we’ll give you this money if you do a little favor for us.’ They’re already working with us on the worst of the worst. They’re already prosecuting our worst offenders. The FBI Violent Crimes Task Force works with APD on a daily basis to target bad offenders. It’s not like they’re saying they’re not going to do anything else, but they are saying, ‘We’ll do some more press conferences with you, we’ll bring some immigration officers to your city to work on federal law enforcement—if you let us go through the personnel files of all 6,000 city employees.”

Asked to explain further, Davis explained a search process that could easily be called insidious, could easily devolve into danger. “There’s a piece of this that requires them, that gives them [ICE] the authority to go through city records to look for people that they want to target. What does that have to do with crime? Why don’t they help us with the Violent Crime Task Force instead?”

What’s Next

The immediate results of this growing schism between local and federal government priorities has so far played out with subtle but noticeable effect. Locally, Michelle Melendez, the director of the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, sent out a missive last week noting that there had been a “ten-fold increase in the number of individuals arrested and detained in Albuquerque by federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents. During these arrests, witnesses have photographed ICE agents wearing vests that say ‘Police.’ They are not Albuquerque Police Officers.”

Melendez’ press release continued with strong, defiant language, stating, “We denounce any attempts to create panic and confusion among the people living in Albuquerque. Mayor Tim Keller and the Albuquerque Police Department have worked hard to go gain the trust, respect and cooperation of all our city’s residents to address our community’s crime problem. We want immigrants to feel safe when they need to call the police for help.”

For now, city police officers and employees are prohibited from asking about or collecting immigration status data; city employees are prohibited from using city resources to investigate an individual’s immigration status; and ICE agents are not allowed access to non-public areas on city property without a warrant.

Davis and Peña aren’t taking that for granted though and say they will continue to fight for civil rights for all, despite the maneuvering of the DOJ and Homeland Security. “We’re not repealing this law, Davis concluded.