The effort to prohibit police officers in Española, New Mexico, a city with 10,130 residents, from asking about a person’s status in the country took about a year. In the end, grassroots advocates with Somos Española, a local civil rights organization, are hailing the result which involved talks with city and police officials.
Police officers in this city with an 87 percent population of Latinos can no longer inquire about a person’s immigration status, following an Oct. 27 vote by the City Council, according to Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide civil rights organization affiliated with Somos Española.
The unanimous vote, part of a broader measure to deter bias in policing, requires that the city follow a 2009 state law that bans discrimination by law enforcement officials. That law prohibits discrimination by police based on race, ethnicity, national origin, language, age, gender or sexual orientation.
“It also makes clear that department personnel shall not initiate, prolong or expand the scope of an enforcement activity in order to determine or inquire about an individual’s immigration status,” Somos Un Pueblo Unido said in a statement.
Ramón Granillo, an Española resident for more than 25 years and a community advocate, welcomed the City Council vote. The ordinance, he said, shows that residents are safe in the city regardless of immigration status.
“There has been a real fear in this community that talking to police could turn into a deportation,” he said in a statement. “That is why we met with the chief and other city officials to improve the relationship and trust between the department and the local immigrant community.”
About 12 percent of its residents were born in another country, according to the Census Bureau.
Española Deputy Police Chief Miguel Maez participated in discussions with residents and explained that his law enforcement oath requires that he helps everyone in the community.
“We are about community policing. We need to reach out to the community, and this is one step we needed to take,” he said, according to Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “We have members of the immigrant community who are victims of violent crime, and we don’t want them to be afraid of calling the police.”
The New Mexico cities of Taos and Santa Fe were among the first in the United States to adopt local measures barring police officers from working with federal immigration agents on immigration matters. That type of cooperation could result in deportation of residents, said Elsa Lopez, a community organizer with Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
“It is great to see the city of Española follow that tradition and challenge the anti-immigrant backlash we are currently experiencing nationally,” she said in a statement.
In addition to cities in New Mexico, San Francisco, Northern California counties, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and the state of Illinois prohibit their law enforcement representatives from cooperating with U.S. agents on what are commonly called “immigration holds.” Those holds can lead to deportation.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido focuses on civil rights and helping workers throughout New Mexico.