Sheriff Candidates on ICE Cooperation

ACLU interview also reveals gaps in knowledge on screening deputies for racism and immigrants' rights

The Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office doesn't have any policy on the books to discourage cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and all four candidates in the race appear to be mostly ignorant when it comes to such policy, according to a report from the Santa Fe American Civil Liberties Union.

That lines up with SFR's own reporting. When we spoke to all four candidates in April, some professed a general unawareness of the limits of federal law and the extent to which local authorities are obligated to comply with ICE requests.

Manual Anaya, for example, told SFR if he was "obligated under the law" to hand over an undocumented person to ICE, he would do so. It's not illegal for local law enforcement to refuse compliance with such requests—in fact it's supposed to be a bedrock tenet of the federalist system—though the Department of Justice has tried to coerce local authorities into doing so by withholding funding.

"I don't have a choice, why would I commit the crime of going against a law that's written?" Anaya said. When informed it wasn't against the law to refuse compliance with ICE, Anaya said, "I am not in there now, I would think that [I] would have to consult with the county attorney, [and] find out where I'm at in doing so."

Santa Fe ACLU board member Rachel Feldman conducted an interview with each candidate to ask whether they knew the civil rights of undocumented people, how they would handle differences in policies across law enforcement jurisdictions, and whether they were aware of current policies regarding communication with ICE and/or Customs and Border Patrol.

The purpose of the interviews, according to Feldman, was to raise awareness of the candidates to the function of county policy to protect the rights of undocumented people, and investigate how each candidate would "ensure such a policy is implemented, monitored and enforced in practice."

Adan Mendoza told Feldman said he was aware of a 2010 Santa Fe County resolution discouraging local law enforcement from enforcing federal civil immigration laws. Mendoza said he would cooperate with immigration agents if compelled by a court or if "very serious crimes" were involved, according to the report.

Mendoza says he aligns with the city of Santa Fe in not enforcing immigration law, but two years after his retirement from the agency, he was "not aware of any specific Sheriff's Department policies regarding immigration status or interaction with federal authorities." He's told SFR he wants to hire more cops, and told Feldman he had not thought about the need for more specific policies to prevent hiring racist and biased officers.

Linda Oritz, who left the department in 2013, told Feldman the county should not have to bear liability for enforcing immigration law, but also did not recall discussion or training for deputies instructing them not to inquire about a person's immigration status. She also wasn't aware of county policies covering interaction federal civil authorities. During her time as a deputy, she said she didn't remember dealing with immigration rights issues, and "hadn't given the issue much thought."

She said she wanted to do research on such policies, but also wants to re-institute a reserve officer program for "volunteer officers" to increase county patrols. This looser deputization could make it a challenge to check volunteers and other new recruits for anti-immigrant bias in hiring—a topic on which Ortiz said she'd never been asked about.

According to Feldman, candidate Leonard Romero struck a similar tone as Anaya did with SFR. Romero said he would "uphold all laws, including assisting state and federal laws." But he was vague when it came to knowledge about actual policies governing when and if deputies should share information with ICE, as well as how to screen new hires for bias. He told Feldman he had "not thought about immigration issues recently."

As with Ortiz and Mendoza, Romero also wants police to spend more time patrolling in townships and neighborhoods across the county. He wants more deputies, but acknowledges the county might not be able to put up the money.

Since all four candidates had worked with the sheriff's department before the federal government widened its net for immigration enforcement under Trump, Feldman wrote they each communicated a need to review policies regarding complaints of bias and cooperation with federal agents.

With no Republican seeking the office in the November general election, the winner of the June 5 primary is the presumptive sheriff-elect.

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