Disclosure: NMPolitics.net editor and publisher Heath Haussamen, who wrote this article, is dating CAFé executive director Sarah Silva, who led today’s protest. Read about how NMPolitics.net handles articles that involve CAFé and Silva here.
This is a breaking news article that will be updated. Check back.
Dozens of people gathered in front of the federal courthouse in Las Cruces on Wednesday afternoon to protest a raid conducted earlier in the day by federal immigration agents. Then protesters gathered in the middle Church Street and marched north, blocking traffic at rush hour.
“What do we want?” an organizer of the protest yelled through a bullhorn, to a response of “Justice!”
“When do we want it?”
“And if we don’t get it?”
“Shut it down!”
After speaking with protest leaders and convincing them to move off the busy Main Street/Picacho Avenue intersection into a nearby park, Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya had kind words for the protesters, who he said were exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.
“I think it’s commendable, what they’re doing,” Montoya said. “They’re speaking up for the rights of people who can’t speak for themselves.”
The scope of the immigration raid conducted in Las Cruces earlier Wednesday isn’t clear. What is known is that U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents were knocking on doors early Wednesday looking for immigrants living in the United States without legal status. Some were reportedly arrested, though how many isn’t known.
KVIA-TV in El Paso quoted Lluvia Sanchez, who said agents knocked on her door and asked to see identification for her and her husband. She said agents had a “big white van, and there were like four or five people (inside) when the (agents) left” the trailer park.
“I’m a U.S. citizen. We are all citizens here, but it’s pretty scary because they were wanting to come in our house without any reason at all,” KVIA quoted Sanchez as saying.
The raid in Las Cruces followed similar actions in cities across the nation that began last week, sparking fears of the mass deportations new U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened. ICE continued to insist on Wednesday the arrests were routine and similar to those carried out under former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, though some believe otherwise.
“ICE regularly conducts targeted enforcement operations during which additional resources and personnel are dedicated to apprehending deportable foreign nationals,” said Leticia Zamarripa, the ICE spokesman in El Paso. “… The focus of these targeted enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis.”
At the start of Wednesday’s protest outside the courthouse in Las Cruces, Sarah Silva, executive director of the community organizing group N.M. Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (CAFé), which led the protest, said agents made arrests at the Los Arboles Mobile Village on the north side of Las Cruces. She said a 31-year-old man who didn’t have a warrant for his arrest was taken by agents.
Leonel Briseño, a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church and a former Las Cruces school board member, spoke through tears at the protest. “It hurts,” he said.
“We need to stand up for our brothers and sisters,” Briseño told the group standing in front of the courthouse. “We need to stand up and make sure that this doesn’t happen in our community.”
As the protesters moved into the middle of Church Street, people chanted “Not one more!”
Dozens of cars were blocked by the protest. Some motorists blared their horns as they moved at the walking protesters’ pace on the one-way street. Others pulled into parking lots and looked for paths around the event.
The protesters stopped when they reached Picacho Avenue, near City Hall and police and fire stations. Many sat in the middle of the street while others stood on the sidewalk and watched. Three police officers on motorcycles arrived shortly thereafter to direct traffic. They were soon joined by other officers and eventually the chief.
Montoya, who has met with CAFé in the past, was smiling as he spoke with Silva, who sat in the middle of the road during the conversation. The chief later told NMPolitics.net his concern was the safety of the protesters and motorists. He and officers asked the protesters to stay off roadways in the future and to notify them in advance of protests so they can help facilitate safety.
One protester was reportedly hit by a black truck that tried to get around the protesters. She was not seriously hurt. Police said they would investigate that incident. Montoya cited it during his plea to not block roadways in the future.
The chief said his agency wasn’t notified by federal authorities about Wednesday’s raid and learned about it from the media. Though the City Council hasn’t declared Las Cruces a sanctuary city, Montoya has said his agency will focus on enforcing local laws and won’t seek out people living in the city in violation of federal immigration law.
As the protest wound down at Albert Johnson Park, where people gathered after moving off the street, Silva praised those who participated.
“We had to respond to people who were being torn from their homes,” she said through a bullhorn. “You let everyone know that they are not alone — because in Las Cruces, no one stands alone.
Montoya said his agency wouldn’t arrest any protesters.
“They cooperated, worked with us,” he said. “Why would I compound the problem?”