Tesuque Pueblo Trailer Village resident Alicia Olivas is worried that a new tribal policy will split her family up.

Olivas, along with the other residents, wasn't aware of the mobile home community's new permit policies until Oct. 17, just two weeks before new documentation was due. As SFR first reported Nov. 2, village property manager Dan Clavio sent a notice to all residents highlighting the new rules, which include providing proof of legal residency in the US [SFReporter.com: "Tesuque Trailer Village Targets Undocumented Residents"].

Residents were ordered to provide the tribe with birth certificates, US passports or US immigration documents by Nov. 1.

Olivas says her husband and child could be forced out for failing to provide the tribe with legal documents.
The trailer village of about 130 homes falls under the jurisdiction of the Tesuque Pueblo tribe, but residents don't have to be tribal members.

That an order to prove citizenship is coming from tribal authorities muddles the question of whether residents will be able to legally challenge it. Santa Fe immigration lawyer Jim Vincent says the order doesn't follow state law. Likewise, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on national origin. But whether either could be enforced in the trailer village is unclear.

"It's complicated by the fact that it's on pueblo land," Micah McCoy, a spokesman with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, tells SFR. "Certain laws just don't apply."

Native American tribes are recognized as sovereign nations, meaning that the US Bill of Rights doesn't necessarily apply to tribal residents, Michelle Brown-Yazzie, a lawyer specializing in Indian law, says.

"Tribes can make laws to govern within and determine who resides in their territory," Brown-Yazzie tells SFR. "That's been upheld in federal court decisions."

Still, the situation appears fishy to Victoria Ferrara, another immigration lawyer based in Santa Fe. She argues the order isn't legal, but concedes she hasn't looked into the issue deeply.

"This is really, really surprising," Ferrara says. "I'm wondering where that directive is coming from."

Marcela Diaz, executive director of immigrant rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, questions why owners of the trailer park would want the new rule.

"How does that benefit the owners of the mobile park?" Diaz asks. "They would lose money from renters."

Residents speculate that the tribe issued the order as a means of complying with federal immigration laws, but tribal authorities did not respond to SFR's questions before press time. Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs spokeswoman Nedra Darling confirms that the order is not coming from BIA.

Maxine Velasquez, an attorney representing Tesuque Pueblo, told SFR over the phone that she had no comment on the issue.

State Sen. Carlos Cisneros, whose district includes the trailer village, questions what rental agreements have to do with birth certificates or social security numbers.

"It seems extreme and intimidating," Cisneros says. "I can't think of a state agency that would be able to assist [the residents]."

Similar ordinances have failed in other parts of the country. In 2006, aldermen in Valley Park, Mo., passed a law that would have punished landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants. Landlords and immigrant rights organizations rallied against the law, which was subsequently repealed.

But in Alabama, a provision in a controversial immigration bill passed this summer bars undocumented immigrants from renewing registrations on mobile homes. Wendy Sefsaf, a spokeswoman with the Washington, DC-based American Immigration Council, wonders whether the Tesuque Pueblo government took hints from the Alabama provision.

"I definitely haven't heard of anything like this anywhere else," Sefsaf, referring to tribal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, tells SFR.

Though many aren't sure of the legality of the tribal order, they're quick to dismiss it on moral grounds. Vincent calls the crackdown "total discrimination."

Peter North, a retired lawyer who's talked with Velasquez about the issue, is troubled to see the tribe targeting residents who have otherwise followed the law.

"On the human front, it strikes me as problematic and horrible," North says. "It causes me great pain to see this happening."

Meanwhile, Olivas says her husband is pondering whether he should plan on sleeping in Santa Fe shelters soon.