City officials in Santa Fe and some other New Mexico communities remained defiant Wednesday after President Donald Trump made good on his promise to crack down on sanctuary cities, signing an executive order that could strip them of millions of dollars of federal funding.
Just what the order will mean for Santa Fe and other cities with similar policies remains unclear. Santa Fe, which last year struggled to close a $15 million budget gap, receives some $6 million each year in federal funds, about 2 percent of its total budget.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s immigration stance and became a de facto spokesman for sanctuary cities last year when he defended their policies in widely circulated interviews with Fox News, CNN and other media outlets. On Wednesday, he was interviewed on cable channel MSNBC and National Public Radio.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Gonzales told The New Mexican on Wednesday. “The rhetoric he used in the campaign to divide the country is what he took into the White House.”
Gonzales said the city will continue to stand by its sanctuary policy. “In Santa Fe, that’s been a key value that has identified us,” he said. “We don’t want to go down a path that goes against our values.”
The president on Wednesday also ordered the immediate construction of a wall along the border of Mexico, fulfilling one of his central campaign promises aimed at stopping the flow of illegal immigration.
The pair of executive orders, which also would increase the number of Border Patrol officers and immigration enforcement agents, came a day after state Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, introduced a bill in the Legislature that would essentially create a statewide sanctuary policy. The proposal would bar police from using state or federal “funds, equipment, personnel or resources” for detecting or apprehending a person whose only violation of the law is entering or residing illegally in the U.S.
Trump’s orders were decried by immigrant rights activists and city officials across the country, including in New Mexico, a Democratic state that voted for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. New Mexico is also the home of about 85,000 of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. Many city officials and advocates said they would continue to fight the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
By some estimates, the construction of the wall across nearly 2,000 miles, some of which falls in Indian Country in Arizona, could cost between $15 billion and $40 billion. New Mexico’s border with Mexico is about 180 miles long.
In an interview with ABC aired Wednesday, Trump said the wall would be funded with American taxpayer money and Mexico would refund the U.S. later. He said the construction could begin in “months.”
The order clamping down on sanctuary cities says the Justice and Homeland Security departments would cut funds from jurisdictions that bar local officials from communicating with federal authorities about someone’s immigration status. This could affect the Santa Fe Police Department, which received $20,000 in federal money last year.
“We will use every tool at our disposal to fight back against senseless deportations, civil rights violations and the exploitation of workers during the Trump administration,’ ” said Rachel LaZar, executive director of El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos in Albuquerque.
Hector Alvadaño, 33, of Española, who is an organizer with New Mexico Dreamers in Action, said political leaders across the state need to double down on immigrant-friendly policies.
“It’s happening, it’s here, so we have to put action behind our words,” he said. “Right now leaders should reaffirm their support for immigrant communities. Not to send a political statement to the president but to make sure immigrant communities are protected.”
Some estimate there are about 300 jurisdictions that have declared sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. And while there is no one definite definition of what a sanctuary city is, it generally refers to communities that do not allow their police to cooperate with immigration officials in helping to identify undocumented immigrants for deportation, except in cases involving other criminal activity. Santa Fe has had such a policy in place since 1999.
Cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York also have adopted such policies.
“These policies make our communities safer by promoting a more trusting relationship between mixed-status immigrant families and the local police.” said María Cristina López, a founding member of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based advocacy group that was instrumental in crafting Santa Fe’s policy.
Advocates have started an online petition asking Albuquerque’s Mayor Richard Berry and its City Council to restore a similar policy that was abandoned in 2010 after Berry was elected. Berry’s stance has been that immigration status is relevant to criminal investigations.
When requesting comment, Rhiannon Samuel, a spokeswoman for the mayor, referred The New Mexican to a 2010 news release in which Berry announced a partnership between the city and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, the agency in charge of finding and deporting immigrants.
“This is not an immigration issue, this is a public safety issue,” Berry said at the time.
A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez’s spokesman made a similar defense against sanctuary policies Tuesday in reference to Roybal Caballero’s proposed legislation.
During her first month in office in 2011, Martinez issued an executive order that nullified New Mexico’s status as a sanctuary state. Her order, which applied to state police, said that officers should ask for a criminal suspect’s immigration status and report it to federal officials. But it also forbade law enforcement officers from asking the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses and other people seeking law enforcement assistance.
State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, who had met with an economic development official for the Mexican government on Wednesday, said that New Mexico should continue to work with Mexico.
“We here in New Mexico value the relationship with both Mexico and the Mexican people,” he said. “And working with them instead of against them will allow us all to prosper.”
In Las Cruces, as in Santa Fe, police are not supposed to ask a suspect’s immigration status, said Danny Trujillo, a spokesman for the department. Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya warned that Trump’s edicts could harm relations between police and the immigrant community.
“We have worked hard on building our relationships and trust not only in the immigrant communities but our community as a whole,” Montoya said in a statement. “If we start asking for immigration status, and calling [Border Patrol agents] or ICE, our immigrant community will stop working with us; they will stop calling in calls where they may be contacted by police for fear of deportation.”
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, whose city is nearly 50 miles north of Mexico, called the idea of a wall bad economic policy that won’t stop immigration.
“It’s going to send a bad message to our largest trading partner,” Miyagishima said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico expressed a similar sentiment.
“One of the most difficult places to build a wall is the remote Bootheel region of New Mexico, which is so rugged, border patrol agents have told me that horses and ATVs are the best ways to patrol,” Udall said in a statement. “The wall also would be a symbol that empowers anti-immigrant rhetoric, while disrupting our relationship with Mexico, New Mexico’s number one trading partner.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce of Hobbs, the lone Republican in New Mexico’s congressional delegation, said he respects Trump for keeping his campaign promise. He added that more had to be done to secure the border, but he didn’t provide any specifics.
“Building a wall or increasing the number of border patrol agents alone will not fix the faults with our border security,” Pearce said in a statement. “We must enforce the laws we have and create a new strategy that will reform the way we patrol and protect the border.”
Contact Uriel Garcia at 505-986-3062 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce is from Hobbs, not Roswell.