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OP-ED: Immigrant Activists Defeat Fear with Collective Action
From Somos Un Pueblo Unido
In the winter of 2007, immigration agents raided the homes of dozens of immigrant families on the south side of Santa Fe. Children woke up to uniformed officers banging on their doors in a one-week enforcement sweep coldly dubbed “Operation Return to Sender.” About 30 workers and youth were taken away and eventually deported.
To protect themselves, families locked their doors and hunkered down. Workers called in sick and moms kept their kids home from school. Attendance at local churches notably dropped the following Sunday.
The community’s reaction was decisive and swift. The city’s Immigration Committee organized a multi-organizational response to provide support to families. The public schools delivered thousands of know-your-rights pamphlets to parents. Somos Un Pueblo Unido’s network of immigrant activists triggered a citywide phone tree to inform each other about constitutional protections, and then they immediately started working with local policymakers to strengthen non-cooperation guidelines at the local police department.
The raids indeed terrorized families, disrupted businesses and schools and upended a whole community. But Santa Fe’s values of inclusion and collective action shone through, and we persevered.
The Trump administration has promised to deport 3 million people. This is not an implausible goal. President Obama managed to deport 2.3 million of our family members, most of whom were identified through formal and informal collaborations between local police, county jails and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).
To arrest that many people, the federal government cannot do it alone—not without the help and resources of local law enforcement agencies and the continued criminalization of non-citizens. This is why there is a renewed call for turning communities across the country into places of “sanctuary.”
There is no legal definition for “sanctuary” city or policy. It is generally understood to be a range of policies that protect the immigration status of residents and that deny the use of local government resources in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. These policies also aim to integrate mixed-status families into the civic, economic and cultural life of a community.
The current movement in New Mexico was actually born in the 1980s when faith groups mobilized to protect and assist Central American immigrants who were fleeing death, violence and poverty. In 1986, then-Gov. Toney Anaya declared New Mexico a “state of sanctuary.”
Somos, along with many faith and community groups, revived the concept locally in 1999 by helping pass a resolution that prohibits the use of municipal resources in discriminating against residents based on immigration status. That was just the beginning. Since then, New Mexico has made driver’s licenses, in-state tuition and financial aid available to all immigrants. Several cities, counties and campuses across the state have also created some of the most protective sanctuary policies in the country.
Ten years after “Operation Return to Sender” rocked Santa Fe, immigrant activists and allies are joining forces once again to rally for a resolution reaffirming and strengthening our city’s sanctuary policies. Among several provisions, the resolution seeks to improve language access for non-English speaking Santa Feans, institute a stronger confidentially directive to city employees about residents’ immigration status, and provide community education to families, youth, business owners and workers regarding constitutional rights.
This is not only a moral imperative but also a practical one.
Approximately 15 percent of Santa Fe’s residents are foreign born. The majority are between 18 and 44 years of age, have resided in the state for more than 10 years and have children who were born here. We are Santa Fe’s young and are integral to the local economy.
The fear of deportation under a Trump presidency, whether through raids or law enforcement collaboration, can impact so many aspects of an immigrant’s life. Buying a home, opening up a business, committing to training and educational programs—these are examples of long-term investments people make when they feel safe, secure and stable.
It is true that candidate Trump offered no substantive policy proposals or plans to implement them. It is also true that he plays fast and loose with his promises. But the rhetoric, the threats and his recent appointments to key federal agencies are enough to rouse fear and anxiety.
So what do we do in the face of this kind of overwhelming uncertainty? We organize! We come together to reject racist fear mongering. And we stand firm in our values of inclusion and respect.
The newly proposed sanctuary resolution, to be voted on in January, raises the bar for Santa Fe, New Mexico and the rest of the country. Contact your city councilors today to let them know that you stand with us. For more information, go to www.somosunpueblounido.org
Somos Un Pueblo Unido is a statewide immigrant-based worker and racial justice organization with membership teams in eight counties and offices in Santa Fe and Roswell.
Immigration Coalition Forms
A bipartisan group of New Mexico community, industry and faith leaders has formed a coalition to call on federal lawmakers to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who do not have a criminal record. The coalition, an initiative of a national organization called the New American Economy, also advocates sealing the U.S.-Mexico border while attracting workers who help grow the economy.
The New Mexico Immigration Reform Steering Committee, one of a dozen statewide coalitions, supports a bipartisan bill called the Bridge Act, which would protect more than 700,000 young immigrants from deportation. Leaders of NMIRSC include Carla Sontag, president and founder of the New Mexico Business Coalition; Christina Medina, professor of political science at New Mexico State University; Kim Shanahan, executive director of the Santa Fe Area Homebuilders Association; and Justin Remer-Thamert, program director at New Mexico Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
The construction, agriculture, tourism and other sectors hire many immigrants. New Mexico, where immigrants comprise 10 percent of the state’s population, relies heavily on immigrant labor.
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