COMMENTARY: I learned some things on Wednesday when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents conducted a raid in Las Cruces. Their action came on the heels of the first nationwide raids since Donald Trump became president. Agree or disagree with what’s happening, it’s an event that impacts our communities.
Las Cruces was ready.
Journalists sprung into action. KVIA-TV broke the story. Other journalists, including me, were quickly on top of it.
As has been the case elsewhere, learning what happened was difficult.
Whether this is the start of Trump’s pledged mass deportations or routine enforcement action, as ICE claims, is a complicated issue.
Regardless, immigrant-rights activists were prepared. Dozens gathered outside the federal courthouse in Las Cruces to protest. “We need to stand up for our brothers and sisters,” Leonel Briseño told people before they shut down a road and blocked traffic.
I learned that even in these polarized times people can make a point peacefully. Blocking traffic is disruptive and controversial, and I also appreciate the point of view of Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya, who asked that protesters stay on the sidewalk next time.
I learned that Montoya is good at his job. Protesters were upset. Some motorists were angry. Montoya had an unenviable task. Instead of further escalating, the chief expressed empathy and helped calm the situation. “I think it’s commendable, what they’re doing,” he told journalists. “They’re speaking up for the rights of people who can’t speak for themselves.”
I already had a high opinion of many activists in this community. I’m dating one of them, Sarah Silva, who led the protest. I observed a key moment when Sarah and others were sitting in the street blocking traffic. Montoya got down on his knees, at her level, and they talked. When Montoya asked Sarah to clear the street, she did.
I disagreed last year with people who called ranchers occupying a national wildlife refuge in Oregon “terrorists.” When people disrupt our lives to protest, they’re risking arrest or worse with a bold, loud cry from their hearts. We should listen, as Montoya did on Wednesday.
I also learned something about myself on Wednesday. I have to juggle quite a conflict when my girlfriend makes the news. Ideally, I pay a freelancer to cover such an event for NMPolitics.net and step away. Wednesday moved too quickly for that. When Sarah led people onto the street in front of the federal building, I knew the protest was turning into a larger event – one that could end with her arrest.
And I did my job.
I observed. I documented. I watched as Sarah led people down streets with honking motorists behind them. I tweeted. Sure, I wondered if Sarah would end up in handcuffs. When police approached her, I stood back and documented.
That was my role: the journalist. After the protest I grabbed some food and wrote an 1,800-word article with photos and videos.
Las Cruces was ground zero on Wednesday for the heated disagreement that will shape our nation for years to come. Our people showed they can debate, protest, shine light, do their jobs, and work toward what they believe will be a better future for our nation and our children – and go home at the end of the day and get ready for another. Some Trump supporters are preparing their own rallies, and I expect the same then.
This is democracy in action.
Heath Haussamen is NMPolitics.net’s editor and publisher.