From Jan. 1 through Aug. 9, ICE placed 190 “immigration detainers” on county jail inmates—an average of three for every 100 bookings. SFR was able to pinpoint the number during its reporting for this week’s cover story on the overuse of bench warrants for minor offenses.
The immigration detainers are not proof of a crime. ICE places them on inmates it suspects of being in the country without a proper visa.
Officially, at least, Santa Fe police don’t inform the feds about people whose immigration papers aren’t in order. The heads of the Santa Fe Police Department, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and the county jail have all told SFR that their agencies don’t actively cooperate with ICE investigators.
So it’s something of a mystery how, without the help of local law enforcement, ICE placed so many detainers on Santa Fe inmates.
ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa tells SFR that agents simply check the jail’s online booking records at santafecounty.org.
If true, that still doesn’t explain how ICE identifies suspects among the broader jail population. The publicly available online information on inmates is limited to names, addresses and dates of birth; the jail redacts Social Security numbers, the most common proof of citizenship.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano says ICE has a computer program that scours jail records and automatically flags suspected immigrants.
Some skeptical of la migra suspect ICE focuses its attention on inmates who have double surnames. It’s as good a guess as any—with some evidence behind it.
Of the 190 county jail inmates who have faced ICE detainers this year, 118 had hyphenated surnames of Hispanic origin.
Indeed, hyphenated names are what ICE suspects have most in common. Certain crimes might lend a clue as to a person’s immigration status. However, only 25 of those 190 inmates were charged with concealing their identities; only two were charged with holding forged ID cards.
Twelve were named Jesus.
ICE publicly insists it does not base investigations on a person’s name or ethnicity. However, a 2004 ICE “workbook” for participants in its 287(g) program, which allows local police to act as de facto immigration agents, contains a “guide in using Spanish names in alien processing”; the guide contains a section on the use of hyphenated surnames in identification procedures.
The numbers belie certain xenophobic stereotypes. Generally, ICE’s targets in Santa Fe were jailed over non-violent offenses. Only 18 of the 190 were charged with battery, and only one was charged with a crime involving a deadly weapon.
Ten percent were booked on drunk driving charges, versus 11 percent of the overall jail population.
Whatever local officials say, ICE also might have help on the inside.
New Mexico Chief Public Defender Hugh Dangler suspects that a few law enforcement officers with anti-immigrant views undermine the city’s official policy that limits cooperation with ICE. Other officials interviewed by SFR share that suspicion.
“It only takes a couple, three, four players in the criminal justice system who have access to [suspects’ ID] material to report that many people,” Dangler says. “Certain players in the field will call in [suspected immigrants].”
Even though illegal immigration is down—with the recession cutting into demand for all types of jobs, but especially construction work—the topic has regained a sense of urgency. This is due to the national controversy over Arizona’s new law giving local police broad powers to pursue suspected illegal immigrants.
Following Arizona, new Albuquerque Mayor Richard Barry adopted strict anti-immigrant policies that require citizenship checks on everyone arrested in the city.
Even Santa Fe city officials, including Mayor David Coss, have begun walking back from the city’s open-arms-to-immigrants reputation, telling the Journal Santa Fe recently that the city was never, as often claimed, a “sanctuary city.”