Tension between state and federal officials ratcheted up Wednesday as President Donald Trump announced the deployment of federal law enforcement agents to Albuquerque and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned she will call for prosecutions if they commit any civil rights abuses in New Mexico.
Trump said at a White House news conference a federal crime-fighting program called “Operation Legend” will be expanded to include Albuquerque, with U.S. Attorney General William Barr adding 35 federal law enforcement agents will be sent to the state’s largest city as part of the effort.
In his comments, the president singled out Albuquerque as a city that he said needs assistance but is too “proud” or “political” to ask for it.
“Other cities need help, they need it badly,” Trump said. “They should call, they should want it. They’re too proud. They’re too political to do that. One of them is Albuquerque, New Mexico.”
Just before the briefing in Washington, Lujan Grisham and state Attorney General Hector Balderas said they would “welcome the conversation” if the Trump administration wanted to aid local authorities with “their regular community-policing activities” or with “data-driven crime-fighting initiatives.”
But the governor said the state will pursue litigation against the federal government if agents “overstep their authority” or if there’s any “clandestine authoritarian attempt to usurp local or state law enforcement operations in our state.
“If the Trump administration wishes to antagonize New Mexicans and Americans with authoritarian, unnecessary and unaccountable military-style ‘crackdowns,’ they have no business whatsoever in New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said.
Trump has vowed to deploy federal law enforcement officers to Democrat-led cities across the nation, which have in turn pushed back and threatened legal action.
Oregon’s attorney general has requested a restraining order against federal agents sent to Portland, charging they’ve arrested people there with no probable cause and rounded up protesters in unmarked cars.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would take the federal administration to court if Trump sent law enforcement to his city, while Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she is open to working with federal law enforcement but wary about potential federal abuse of power.
The husband of Jacqueline Vigil, an Albuquerque resident killed last year, spoke in support of the federal deployment to Albuquerque at the news conference in Washington. Vigil, who was a 55-year-old mother of two state police officers, was fatally shot in November in her driveway as she was about to go to the gym.
“Every time I go to the driveway, that memory comes back and it haunts me,” Sam Vigil said Wednesday, standing at a podium next to the president. “It’s been eight months since my wife died and there’s been no arrests at all.”
The FBI’s Albuquerque office said Wednesday it is offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to the identification and arrest of Vigil’s killer.
Barr said Wednesday that Operation Legend, which has already sent some 200 federal agents to Kansas City, Mo., will be expanded to deploy a similar number of agents to Chicago and the 35 agents to Albuquerque.
He said the operation consists of “classic crime-fighting” and is different from the federal presence in Portland, where protesters have been staging nightly demonstrations since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked nationwide unrest in May.
The federal effort in Albuquerque will include deploying investigators from the FBI; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
They will be led by John Anderson, U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico, and will work in conjunction with the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Wednesday.
The Justice Department also is granting some $1.5 million to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office to hire five deputies and giving $9.7 million to the Albuquerque Police Department to pay for the hiring of 40 officers.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on Wednesday called Trump’s announcement a “political stunt.”
“If this was anything more than a political stunt, the president would support constitutional crime-fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state,” Keller said.
The Albuquerque Police Department said that while it cooperates with federal officials every day, it had not received details about the expansion of Operation Legend to the city or signed a memorandum of understanding.
“Until we have something in writing that confirms this will have nothing to do with immigration, protests, or racial profiling, we will not be working together,” said spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.
In his comments, the president repeatedly criticized “extreme politicians” for joining an “anti-police crusade” that he said has caused an increase in crime in cities across the country. He did not name specific elected officials.
“For decades, politicians running many of our nation’s major cities have put the interests of criminals above the rights of law-abiding citizens,” Trump said. “These same politicians have now embraced the far-left movement to break up our police departments, causing violent crime in their cities to spiral.”
Barr claimed a recent increase in violent crime in certain large U.S. cities is the “direct result” of efforts to defund police forces since Floyd’s killing. He called such efforts an “extreme reaction that has demonized police.”
APD said it does not agree recent protests had led to an increase in crime in Albuquerque.
“Protests have been mostly peaceful in Albuquerque and much less violent and destructive than other cities because of our focus on reform and community policing,” Gallegos said.
Asked about the president’s comments Wednesday, the Governor’s Office said Trump doesn’t know “the first thing about the issues facing” Albuquerque or the state.
“The president couldn’t find Albuquerque on a map,” said Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki. “He can shut up and try doing his job. In the absence of the latter, he can just shut up.”
Stelnicki added the Trump administration had not contacted the Governor’s Office “in any manner whatsoever” regarding the deployment of federal agents to Albuquerque.
A chorus of New Mexico Democratic Party officials lashed out at the federal announcement Wednesday.
New Mexico’s two U.S. senators joined some two dozen Democratic senators in writing a letter to Barr and acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, suggesting federal officers have used “inappropriate interference” and “legally questionable activities” to hamper the First Amendment rights of protesters in cities such as Portland.
“Critically, it remains unclear what legal authorities the federal government has invoked for its militarized interventions in American cities,” U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich wrote along with 25 other senators.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is running for U.S. Senate, called on Trump to invest in community policing, universal background checks and educational opportunities for New Mexico’s youth.
“But if his intent is to re-create the scenes out of Portland — with anonymous federal agents rounding up residents in unmarked vehicles — I will do everything I can as a member of Congress to hold him accountable,” Luján said.
On Tuesday, Heinrich and Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales exchanged a war of words over the then-rumored deployment of federal officials to Albuquerque.
In a rare move, Heinrich called for Gonzales to resign for “inviting the President’s stormtroopers into Albuquerque.”
Gonzales shot back the senator “couldn’t be more political and out of touch with the local social problems.”
Gonzales, a Democrat, was in Washington on Wednesday and planned to meet with Trump. He had already been a source of frustration for Democratic officials and authorities in Albuquerque as he has refused to have his deputies wear body cameras.
In a statement, Gonzales said he would provide more details on his meetings at a later date, but he said his condolences continue to be with the Vigil family.
“Today’s announcement from the federal government speaks for itself, and the local FBI also made it clear what Operation Legend special agents will do: combat Albuquerque’s out of control crime crisis and solve homicides,” he said.