A death threat against immigration attorney Allegra Love launched an FBI investigation and forced the Santa Fe advocate to abandon her home until the danger passed, sources have told Searchlight New Mexico.
The threat came an April 29 voicemail from a New Mexico phone number. A man, who said he was coming to Santa Fe, growled into the phone: "I'm going to murder every one of you tyranny-loving [expletive]. Be ready for me! You are all [expletive] dead."
The next day, an FBI agent met Love at her office.
"' Here's what we suggest,' " she says the agent told her, " 'Keep the doors locked. If your staff is uncomfortable, they can work from home. We're taking this as credible. We're going to try to figure out who the caller is.' "
As director of the nonprofit Santa Fe Dreamers Project and an outspoken advocate for immigrant families in New Mexico, Love says she has faced her share of insults -- often after a news report broadcasts her name. But nothing like this.
"It scared me to think that something could happen to our staff," says Love, a former elementary school teacher in Santa Fe Public Schools. "I feel like [the work] has become hazardous in a way I never would have anticipated."
What happened to Love and her colleagues, experts say, is an example of the open threats and unrelenting hostility that immigrant advocates face nationwide. Anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration -- amplified by media politically aligned with the president -- is at least partly to blame, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks incidents of hate speech.
As a matter of policy, Albuquerque-based FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said, the agency cannot confirm or deny an investigation. But he explained the difference between strong words and a criminal act this way:
"When it crosses the line to 'I'm going to hurt you or your relatives,' that is where it becomes a threat of violence," he says. "It is no longer just expressing an opinion."
Though the caller did not carry out the attack, the threat was especially chilling because of its specificity, Love says. The caller stated exactly when, where and how she and her colleagues would die.
Love's twin sister begged her to leave her house. Police said they would keep a close patrol of her home and office until the threat passed.
She packed her things, locked her doors and stayed away from her house for more than two weeks while law enforcement watched and waited.
Along with a dozen or so other attorneys, Love was in Mexico with a migrant caravan in early April to answer questions and conduct legal seminars. An NBC Nightly News report showed the migrants, including many women and children, congregating under blue-and-yellow tarps after traveling hundreds of miles by train and on foot.
"People want to know," Love told NBC, " 'if I turn myself in at the U.S. border, what is going to happen to me?' "
In Mexico, Love says, she explained U.S. asylum law to migrants, described poor detention conditions and warned about family separation polices at the border. The work made her uncomfortable, she says, because "politically, I don't want to be telling asylum-seekers not to come to our border, which is what I was telling 90 percent of the people."
A couple of weeks later, on April 24, Fox News ran a segment on The Ingraham Angle that Love says broadly mischaracterized her work.
Laura Ingraham's show appeals to conservatives with her no-holds-barred commentary. She opened the April 24 segment by saying, "We have also learned -- this is curious -- that American attorneys have traveled southward to meet with migrants to instruct them on their rights to apply for asylum in the United States. We did some digging and, according to reports, two of these lawyers are Allegra Love of Santa Fe Dreamers Project and Marie Vincent, who also works for a small 501(c)3 organization.
At one point, Ingraham said: "If these attorneys are holding what is being described as these large group seminars and demonstrate intent to skirt the laws or to help the migrant skirt the laws, well, they could be in jeopardy, at least technically."
The Ingraham Angle never called Love or Vincent for comment.
A Fox News spokeswoman declined to answer questions on the record. The network did not respond to a list of questions emailed earlier this month.
Love says, "The sickest I felt about this whole thing, including listening to the threat, was watching The Ingraham Angle. It was seeing something that is broadcast to millions of people that is completely mischaracterizing your action."
The threat came five days later.
Searchlight New Mexico is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to investigative journalism.