More than six months have passed since city officials and advocates announced that agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeted Santa Fe's immigrant population with workplace audits and arrests. The full extent of the sweeps is still unknown outside the agency.
Yet, SFR has obtained correspondence between the city, ICE, and the offices of several New Mexico Congress members suggesting the agency has continued to target immigrants for arrest using deceptive practices, including a traffic stop conducted under legally false pretenses, as alleged by Mayor Alan Webber in a letter to ICE.
The actions are consistent with another instance SFR reported in April. On that occasion, ICE agents pretended to be customers to gain access to an Agua Fría business owned by an immigrant. According to a letter sent by ICE to the office of Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, the agency is currently investigating the Agua Fría visit based on SFR's reporting that agents "misrepresented their identities to enter and inspect a private area of business."
In March, the immigrant organizing group Somos Un Pueblo Unido said federal authorities initiated audits against at least six businesses and had detained several people in Santa Fe. Former Mayor Javier Gonzales said at the time the city would submit a letter to New Mexico's Congressional delegation to find out who had been targeted for enforcement, and why.
The letter, addressed to the offices of Heinrich and Sen. Tom Udall as well as Rep. Ben Ray Luján, all Democrats, wasn't sent until June 5, after Webber had assumed office.
In it, the city asked the delegation to inquire with ICE about the criteria used to target businesses for audits, and for the "total number of businesses targeted for an audit and number of immigrants arrested and deported in the past two years."
The letter said that in the meantime, officials were "reminding City Staff of the protocol stemming from our own Open City policies." It was signed by Webber and all city councilors except Peter Ives, Chris Rivera and Michael Harris.
Webber followed up by phone with El Paso ICE Acting Field Office Director Diane Witte on June 13. During the conversation, according to a letter submitted by the mayor to Witte after the call, Webber cited three arrests by ICE agents on Cerrillos Road in May stemming from traffic stops "that appeared to be unwarranted."
"In one case, the person taken into custody was told that he was being stopped because there had been a report that the vehicle he was driving had been stolen—a claim later disproved by Santa Fe Police Department records," Webber wrote to Witte. "In all three cases, ICE agents gave the impression that they may have been Santa Fe Police," including by driving unmarked cars and showing no identification.
The confusion caused by the stops did "real harm to the Santa Fe Police Department," the mayor continued. He directly asked Witte what kinds of operations it was conducting in Santa Fe and under which circumstances ICE agents can make vehicular stops, and whether the ICE agents who made the stops would be held accountable for fabricating false claims.
Witte did not respond until August, when she told Webber she had no further comment.
In a phone conversation with SFR, Webber characterizes ICE's response to the city's concerns in the two letters as "very dismissive and non-cooperative."
"I'm not sure what surprises me with the Trump administration," Webber says. "After their general approach to immigration, and dealing with separating children at the border and a host of other horrendous policies and practices, I don't know whether to be disappointed or continually dismayed."
Further correspondence between the city and congressional delegation shows that without confirmation from ICE, no one is certain how many immigrants have been arrested or how many employers audited. The agency has also stayed mum about how it decides who to put in its crosshairs.
Several business owners visited by ICE have declined to speak with SFR on the record. Tips about visits from agents are difficult to corroborate because the agency won't release most information. In a rare show of transparency this summer, the agency said it detained three undocumented people in June.
Attempts by local officials to gain answers have also been hampered by layers of bureaucracy, correspondence shows.
After city spokesman Matt Ross asked Rep. Luján's office on Aug. 10 for help responding to Witte's letter, he was kicked over to press secretary Victoria Oms, who emailed a lackluster response nearly a month later.
"I've spoken briefly with Rep. [Michelle] Lujan Grisham's staff but can also plan to contact the Senators' offices," Oms wrote in an email to Ross on Sept. 7. "I think our only flag for you on this is that we expect the response from ICE will be that they don't discuss law enforcement tactics, which is the response we've received on a couple other concerns we've raised with them."
Ross also contacted the offices of Lujan Grisham, Heinrich, and Udall on Aug. 13. A field representative for Heinrich eventually emailed Ross back with a letter from ICE confirming that the agency was conducting an internal investigation of its actions in Santa Fe.
That letter, sent from ICE Assistant Director of Congressional Relations Raymond Kovacic to the offices of Udall and Heinrich and dated Sept. 17, seemed to indicate that ICE was reviewing the enforcement that took place in Santa Fe during the spring. But the agency only references the visit to the Agua Fría business first reported by SFR, and not any of the questions posed by Webber in either his letter to the congressional delegation or the one to Witte.
"In July 2018, ICE [Office of Professional Responsibility] initiated an investigation based on the allegation that ICE agents misrepresented their identities to enter and inspect a private area of a business," Kovacic's letter reads. "This investigation is ongoing."
Webber says he "gives credit" to the Congressional delegation for pushing ICE to provide answers for its enforcement in Santa Fe.
"I suspect at the federal level, there would be more ability to pry some of these doors open" if the Congressional delegation came knocking, Webber says. "I welcome their taking that kind of an interest and stepping up. I think it's easier for ICE to ignore a mayor than it is to ignore a [congressperson] or a senator."