Lezly Barraza-Lopez doesn't know why an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked Santa Fe Police for a crash report after she rear-ended somebody last July.
"I'm really shocked about this," Barraza-Lopez says after SFR reveals ICE's inquiry to her. "I went to court, I fixed all my problems, I was responsible for everything. So I really don't know why they are taking it to that point."
According to the crash report, Barraza-Lopez admitted to looking at her cell phone before smashing her silver Dodge sedan into the back of a black Ford sedan at an Airport Road intersection. Both vehicles incurred moderate damage, but Santa Fe Police officer Denis Mares, who wrote the report, did not record any complaints of injury.
Barraza-Lopez didn't have a driver's license on her, and instead gave Mares her Mexico Consular ID card. Mares issued two citations to her, one for not having a driver's license and another for using her cellphone while driving. No criminal charges were ever filed against anybody involved, and no criminal records appear for either Barraza-Lopez or the person she rear-ended in state databases.
Yet two months after the accident, an investigative assistant with the ICE Homeland Security Investigations Strike Force Group in Las Cruces submitted a records request to Santa Fe police to obtain the crash report involving Barraza-Lopez. The report contains identifying information including home addresses, phone numbers and license plate numbers.
ICE's decision to file a records request for the crash report highlights a loophole in Santa Fe's so-called sanctuary resolution. While the city's policy says none of its resources should be used to help immigration enforcement authorities, it also says that city employees can be compelled to hand over sensitive information about a person to ICE or other federal agencies if authorities file requests under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, known as IPRA.
The carve-out would be enshrined statewide if two bills filed in the Legislature become law this session.
Somehow, ICE obtained Mares' business card. On it was inscribed a crash report number federal agents used to submit the records request, a review of the records by SFR shows.
Does that indicate Mares tried to help ICE? Police Chief Andrew Padilla says no—neither Mares or any other officer has had contact with ICE agents under his tenure, and he doesn't know how ICE HSI Special Agent Danny Ortiz got Mares' business card.
"[Officer Mares] handed out his business cards to the driver of the first vehicle and the driver of the second vehicle," Padilla tells SFR. "He did not reach out to ICE. … How the agent obtained the case number via the business card, we have no idea."
A pair of records requests submitted to the Santa Fe Police Department last September by an assistant with the Las Cruces ICE HSI Strike Force Group makes reference to a business card "the [ICE] agent received by the officer referencing the case/incident report," which was included with the request.
Through an assistant, Ortiz referred questions about the incident to an ICE spokesperson.
The assistant, Natalie Zawada, tells SFR that she doesn't know why Ortiz wanted the crash report, but says that the Strike Force Group, which is a coalition of agents from the ICE subagency HSI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, tends to focus on narcotics investigations.
"It may be some people involved might have either, involved directly or have ties [to criminals]," Zawada says over the phone. "Maybe [the person's] address at one point was linked in an investigation or someone who lives there now was under investigation, so there might be. … They try to interview anybody or approach anybody, they want to make sure they have information correct."
Zawada says her office often relies on public and open-source databases for some leads, including websites like inteltechniques.com and instantcheckmate.com. She tells SFR she does not know how Ortiz obtained Mares' business card.
Padilla guesses that the agent obtained Mares' card by talking with one of the parties involved in the car crash.
"The only way I can assume they obtained a copy of the business card itself is through whatever investigation they were doing as ICE, they spoke to either driver 1 or 2 or someone they know, and they personally gave the business card to that agent," Padilla says.
Barraza-Lopez balked at the idea of having ties to drug traffickers.
"We have never had anything to do with ICE or have no criminal [ties] or anything like that," Barraza-Lopez says. "Why is Immigration into all of this? I don't understand."
A phone number in the police report for the person driving the black Ford sedan went to a dead line.
Marcela Díaz, a member of the city Immigration Committee who was instrumental in the resolution's passage, acknowledges the city policy's doesn't just let ICE find records.
"Anyone, including press, including individuals, including law enforcement, can go through the process of requesting in writing a police report, and that is allowable under the IPRA exception in our resolution," she tells SFR.
Meanwhile, as the Legislature considers a pair of bills to prohibit state law enforcement from using resources to enforce federal immigration law, the same provisions are built in.
Both bills were awaiting approval in their respective chambers' committees at publication time. Neither includes an enforcement mechanism or explains how state and local agencies will be monitored for cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
No sponsors for either bill returned SFR's phone calls by publication time.