SANTA FE, N.M. — While those serving time in the Santa Fe County jail can’t wait to get out, federal immigration officials are just trying to get in.
But the jail’s director contends U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities racially profile inmates, and until that stops the welcome mat outside the facility will continue to read:
ICE officials insist they are not racially profiling anyone. And they say Santa Fe’s refusal to allow them to interview prisoners is hindering their efforts to determine which ones might be here illegally.
ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa says it would make sense for the jail to contact federal immigration authorities when it comes to some illegal immigrants who are about to be released or bond out, but that the jail is under no legal requirement to do so.
“They’re not violating the law,” she said. “But it’s in the community’s best interest for them to contact us. That way we don’t have a convicted murderer or convicted rapist out on the street.”
The issue of illegal immigration has become a hot one since Arizona set off a national debate by passing a law that would authorize police to question anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. Locally, the debate heated up after an illegal immigrant who had been arrested twice on sex crime charges was accused recently of assault- ing a 6-year-old at a health club.
In one case, he was a juvenile and the state Children Youth and Families Department had a policy in place not to notify ICE of illegal immigrant juveniles accused of crimes. Gov. Gill Richardson has since rescinded that policy at least for violent crimes.
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, just this month, implemented a new policy under which the immigration status of anyone arrested by city police is checked by ICE when they are booked at the prisoner transport station.
An attempt by some Albuquerque city councilors to roll back that policy failed on a 5-4 vote.
But in Santa Fe, jail practices and law enforcement policies remain immigrantfriendly to the extent of shielding many of those arrested from immigration authorities.
That frustrates ICE officials, who say that not only are they not allowed to interview inmates at the Santa Fe County jail, but the lockup doesn’t always honor ICE “detainers” for inmates who may have violated immigration law.
Santa Fe County jail director Annabelle Romero said the jail does cooperate with ICE if there is an official request to detain an inmate. It will then hold the inmate for the amount of time requested by immigration officials, 48 hours.
But often, ICE simply wants to interview a prisoner to get more information to determine whether he or she is here illegally.
That’s where the Santa Fe jail draws the line.
Romero claims the feds use such factors as Mexicansounding names to decide which inmates they want to interview.
“The individuals they do select to interview are mostly Hispanic and have hyphenated names,” Romero said. “The way it was conducted I thought was unfair.”
Romero also says ICE officials don’t properly identify themselves when interviewing prisoners, and prisoners are left confused as to whom they are talking to.
“Their (ICE’s) response is they’re not required to do that,” she said. “And I don’t have to let them in. I haven’t liked what they’ve done.”
Zamarripa says ICE officials always identify themselves to people they interview. And she flatly rejected the allegation that ICE is singling out inmates based on last names.
“That’s not the way ICE conducts business,” she said.
ICE also claims the Santa Fe jail is the only jurisdiction in the state that continues to give the agency a hard time.
“We have a good relationship with other facilities in New Mexico,” Zamarripa said.
Asked what the relationship with Santa Fe County jail is like, Zamarripa responded: “There is no relationship.”
ICE routinely checks jail databases for possible illegal immigrants. If it knows a prisoner is illegal – either through interviewing the person or from information from its own database – it can issue a detainer to the detention facility requesting the jail hold that person for 48 hours. This happens after the inmate goes through the judicial process.
“Once the state is done with that person, the detention facility will contact ICE, who will pick up the inmate,” Zamarripa said.
While Zamarripa said that is routinely not done at the Santa Fe County jail, Romero insisted the jail does cooperate with ICE when the federal agency has a “legitimate detainer” in place. And when agents come to the jail with a detainer to take away an inmate, Romero says she obliges. But that’s about as far as the cooperation goes.
“They have not been able to provide any kind of law – state or federal – that would require us to do that,” Romero said, referring to allowing agents to freely enter the facility and question inmates.
There’s a cost associated with holding illegal immigrants. Santa Fe County charges other agencies and jurisdictions $52 a day to house prisoners in the Santa Fe jail.
Copyright 2010 Albuquerque Journal