In June, Doña Ana County (New Mexico) received praise from immigration advocates and other civil rights groups after it decided to “stop honoring immigration holds at the county jail, an important step they say in loosening the improper ties between local and federal law enforcement agencies.”
The new policy received positive feedback from community leaders like Jed Untereker, legal director of Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, who called it “very wise and progressive” during a news conference held at the Border Network for Human Rights office in Anthony, NM.
Doña Ana County is one of the most populated counties in the state of New Mexico and this decision helps to bring the county to the “forefront of the issue.” This issue has to do with current immigration policies that allow jails to keep inmates 48 hours after they would otherwise be released in order for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) personnel to “vet out suspected immigration consequences spurred by their arrest.”
When considering the issue, the question as to whether the community wants local law enforcement to work so closely with federal law enforcement. With the recent decision, the answer seems to be a strong “No.” The option was made available to the county last spring, after a federal appeals court held that local governments are allowed to choose whether or not they want to honor immigration holds that are requested by ICE.
It was around this same time that Untereker's agency was involved with a legal dispute between the county and Doña Ana County Detention Center. In June 2013, the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project filed a suit on behalf of two sisters. The two women were refused the opportunity for bond because of an immigration hold. Although the hold should have expired after 48 hours, they were held for two months. They missed out on school and suffered consequences related to their jobs because of their time in jail. The two were originally arrested in October of 2012 on misdemeanor officer assault and disturbing the peace charges.
Although the sisters' mother came to the jail and attempted to bail her daughters out of the facility, an official at the jail told her that “it would be fruitless to post bond for them because of the ICE holds.” In this case, the women had been born in Mexico, but lived in New Mexico for 12 years and were considered to be eligible by ICE for various immigration programs. This meant that they were not categorized as “deportable.” The women claim this is not uncommon and say that between April 2012 and April 2013, there were 463 immigration holds and of those, only three individuals posted bond. However, attorneys associated with the lawsuit state that they do not know how many of those who were held were eligible for or attempted to post bond.
The parties just recently settled the lawsuit. The sisters attended the news conference when the announcement was made that the county would stop honoring immigration holds. The two women made a brief statement and thanked their attorneys.