Update: Taoseños urge politicians to strengthen ‘sanctuary’ status

'Immigrants and refugees alike put it all on the line to live the American dream'


When President Donald Trump signed an executive order that sought to punish local governments with immigrant “sanctuary” policies, the reaction was swift. While bigger cities like San Francisco and Santa Fe are leading the charge against that presidential directive, the conversation about the role of local governments in protecting immigrants was ignited in Taos.

More than 100 residents took to the Taos County commission chambers — filling all the seats, siting on the floor and pouring out of the doors — Feb. 7 to demand Taos County leaders take a stand in expanding the county’s role as a place of refuge for immigrants.

José Gonzales, who runs an in-school nurturing center at Enos Garcia Elementary School, told the commission just how real the fear among the immigrant community has been since Trump’s election and his action to make good on election promises to crack down on immigration.

“There are people,” he said on the verge of tears, “getting ready to sell their mobile homes in the event a [mass] deportation does take place here in Taos.”

As nearly 25 people spoke (all in favor of sanctuary status), the arguments for adopting a stronger stance on sanctuary ranged from personal experiences of racism to historical perspective to ethical concerns.

“In spite of all the fear, we’re on the winning side – not only morally in taking the high ground, but also legally,” said Peggy Nelson, a retired judge. “It takes lawsuits a while to run their course,” she said, but added that the “ability to take a strong stand to say we’re part of this [sanctuary] movement” is important in this moment of national attention on immigrant issues.

The Rev. Mike Olsen – of St. James Episcopal Church – said religious leaders in Taos are bound by a common “moral obligation to care for and be inclusive of everyone in our community.” He then cited a Bible verse while flanked by several other interfaith leaders, saying, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. … Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners.”

One person spoke of being born under Hitler’s Germany and entering the U.S. illegally through Texas, while another spoke about her family’s lineage that includes lynching and the search for refuge within the U.S. from the South’s Jim Crow laws and culture of violence.

Ira Vandever spoke of Taos’ unique history as a place of sanctuary for many Native American tribes, including the Navajo and the Hopi, throughout history, adding that “natural law says … to eliminate borders.”

What is sanctuary?

Sanctuary is a “pretty fluid concept,” said Nelson, who drafted a sanctuary resolution for the county commission to consider.

There is no one policy or definition of a sanctuary city, though it generally refers to local governments committing to not cooperating with federal raids or deportations of immigrants.

The town of Taos has been a sanctuary city since 2011, said Darien Fernandez, a town council member. That status is based on several resolutions previously approved by the town council. One resolution minces no words: “The Town of Taos is a city of sanctuary.”

Taos County already has one policy in place, passed in 2014, that says staff at the Taos County Adult Detention Center won’t ask about inmates’ immigration status, nor will they report undocumented detainees to the federal government. However, that policy puts the responsibility of notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about undocumented detainees on the district attorney.

The Taos County commissioners are considering another resolution that would reaffirm and expand the county’s commitment as a place of sanctuary. Like the town’s six-year-old ordinance, the county’s would state emphatically that Taos is a place of sanctuary.

A draft resolution has not been finalized. Therefore, an actual vote by the five-person board of Taos county commissioners won’t happen until at least the next commission meeting later this month.

What’s at stake

Federal funding that trickles its way down to local government is at risk for sanctuary cities, the president said.

That’s given some local leaders pause.

Leandro Cordova, Taos County manager, said the county could lose more than $1.3 million in annual funding should the federal government go after municipalities with sanctuary policies. The majority of that funding, he said, goes to the county-operated senior centers and associated programs.

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe also cautioned that his department relies on free training offered at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia (which, two years ago, was used as a temporary holding facility for families and children fleeing several Central American countries).

“I don’t want to see something that compromises [our ability to get free training], but I’m not going to compromise my own integrity and morals for a dollar. If you’re a criminal, your [immigration] status doesn’t make a hill of difference to me,” Hogrefe said.

But just how likely is it that Taos’ federal funding would be targeted, regardless of the strength of sanctuary policies in place at the town and county?

Fernandez told The Taos News that small, rural communities are “very low on their priority list.” 

“They’re going to go after the big cities, where an example could be made. And those cities are ready and willing to take on that challenge,” he said.

Indeed, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales has emerged as a prominent voice in the sanctuary city movement.

“Immigrants and refugees alike put it all on the line to live the American dream. Santa Fe has seen generation after generation grab hold of the opportunity to do better by their children,” wrote Gonzales in a recent commentary in Fortune.

“As one of our country’s first openly gay Hispanic mayors, I know how it feels to be shut out because of who you are. But I also know that America is at its strongest when we welcome the world, when we celebrate its diversity, and when we choose hope over fear. No executive order can force a community to change its values. Now, when we face the hardest test, is the time to stand up for our fundamental beliefs, not depart from them,” Gonzales wrote.


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sandra mckendrick

hmmm. and when you are crying about how there's not enough for money for schools for our children i'll remember how you fought hard and poured your tears into town and begged us to divert taxpayer funds to illegal immigrants instead.

Thursday, February 9, 2017 | Report this
Dan Rifleman

We suffer one of the highest crime rates in the nation per capita. Countries taking in muslim immigrants have seen an increase in sex crimes, violence against gays and children and massive property destruction. I don't know who's more criminal, the muslims we are rescuing from the stone age or the Liberals with their PC feel good BS?

Thursday, February 9, 2017 | Report this
Peggy Nelson

Concerning the first two comments:

1. The sanctuary resolution calls on the County to NOT use its limited resources to aid ICE - there is no diversion of money to immigrants. Please get your facts straight.

2. Statistics show that crime is lower in immigrant communities than elsewhere. The comment about Muslims is simply xenophobic, racist and incorrect. And, contrary to what our new Attorney General has just said, crime is going down nationwide - not up. Stop this fear mongering and base your comments on fact.

Saturday, February 11, 2017 | Report this
sandra mckendrick

i'm not talking about immigrants. i'm talking about ILLEGAL immigrants to suck off the teets of the american taxpayer. many immigrants came here the legal way and worked very hard to make it in this country and do very well. with regards to the muslim comment, muslim is not a race. it is a religion. an ideology. if a person of muslim faith wants to assimilate to our culture and refuse to carry out what their scripture tells them, that's great. but many are coming here to do just that, carry out what their scripture mandates. spread sharia law all over the world, kill the unbeliever and apostates and those moderate muslims who refuse to carry out what is mandated in the text. this is not fear mongering, this is being played everywhere there is a mass influx such as uk and germany and sweden. don't try to tell me there's a decrease in crime in those countries. it may help if you'd look for facts from somewhere other than npr.

Saturday, February 11, 2017 | Report this