Public defenders and immigration advocates in Santa Fe are attempting to systematically log the impact of President Trump’s immigration enforcement orders on the state’s court system.
The foot soldiers in the effort include local public defenders, who represent defendants in both the First District Judicial Court as well as the Santa Fe Magistrate Court. According to Morgan Wood, district defender for the First District, there has been an increase since January in US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents waiting outside the magistrate court to apprehend undocumented defendants after their court appointments. She estimates she's seen this take place three or four times in the last six months, and says other public defenders have observed even more instances.
"I've seen them and other attorneys have seen them sitting there in the parking lot," Wood tells SFR. "This is happening on DWI docket days, and targeting defendants that are at all different stages [of criminal proceedings], including arraignments and dismissals." She says her office is beginning to catalog the number of their defendants who've been picked up by ICE.
One particular instance stands out in Wood's memory. On or around the morning of April 11, Wood says, ICE agents in three SUVs waited outside the magistrate courthouse while Judge David Segura went through the DWI docket. An agent was also seated in the lobby outside the courtroom. Segura instructed the agent sitting inside to leave, and other witnesses say that the SUVs exited the parking lot roughly an hour after they were spotted. However, Wood says, the ICE agents later apprehended at least three people after they left the courthouse. One was married to a US citizen and released. The fate of the others is unknown.
Segura says he doesn't know of similar ambushes beyond this one instance and possibly another, and says it would be a stretch to conclude they're increasing. But he also says it's new for ICE agents to hang around the building. They hadn't done that since he asked the department's regional supervisor to stop sending agents into the courthouse about four years ago.
It's unclear how the agency targets particular court proceedings. Wood believes that ICE agents are either viewing dockets through the Secured Odyssey Public Access or are being tipped off by somebody who has access to the dockets. She's especially suspicious of the Santa Fe County DWI compliance monitoring program, which functions as a probation-like sentence for people convicted of DWI. Public defenders have seen agents around the magistrate courthouse primarily on days that DWI cases are heard, she says.
Lupe Sanchez, the compliance coordinator for the Santa Fe County DWI Program, denied that his office currently works with ICE but said they had previously been in contact with the agency late last year, after the election.
"We've had occasions where ICE agents have called and requested information regarding clients," Sanchez tells SFR. "We did have one occasion where we verified we had a client, the name of the individual and that he was under our supervision. But that was all we did: verify. They asked, 'Can they report in and we'll pick them up?' And we said no."
Conflicting accounts over whether ICE is, in fact, seeking out people through New Mexico's justice system come amid a broader national crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The agency said in a report from May that the number of people arrested for allegedly being in the country illegally had risen 37.6 percent from a year prior, from 30,028 to 41,318. In March, Gov. Susana Martinez signaled a willingness to assist the Trump administration with deportations by allowing federal authorities to inquire about the legal status of inmates serving time in state prisons.
Some advocates see data collection as a way to push back on the governor's complicity with ICE. Attorneys at the Santa Fe Dreamers Project are currently aggregating information to reveal the impact that these practices are having on the local and state court system, including not just apprehensions but also increased numbers of bench warrants filed and declining rates of domestic violence reported to authorities—which could indicate that undocumented people are afraid to interface with the justice system.
"We can't just be reactive," says Allegra Love, an attorney and director of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. "We have to start taking an aggressive stance, and that will happen through data."
If the data suggests that fears of ICE are deterring people from the justice system in New Mexico, it would be easier to push the state's Supreme Court to take a stance against federal authorities using legal institutions as honey traps, says Tess Wilkes, another attorney at the project. She hopes that New Mexico will join at least six other states—California, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington—where state attorneys general or top-ranking justices have formally asked the federal government to stop frequenting local courthouses.
"There would be no authority to tell ICE it has to do something, but a court could make a policy that, for example, when any law enforcement officer enters a court room, they have to sign a book," says Wilkes. Such measures could increase accountability in instances when, for example, it's later discovered that an ICE agent arrested somebody at a courthouse without a warrant.
The fact that such things could be happening in Santa Fe shows how difficult it is to shield people from the deportation machine even in a self-described "sanctuary city" where local law enforcement are advised not to inquire about people's immigration status. But Judge Segura says it's necessary to ensure everybody has access to the courts.
"We want to make sure that any person who has a case before magistrate court is heard," he says, whether or not they have permission from the federal government to be here.