The vote was in response to more than 50 members of Farmington's Hispanic community packing the commission's meeting room on Monday to express their concern about how local law enforcement and a recent influx of Immigration Customs Enforcement agents seem to be engaging in racial profiling.
The group included whole families and many were part of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide organization that advocates for immigrant rights though many of the people present were not immigrants and have lived in the community for many years.
"We heard about the Community Relations Commission from City Councilor Dan Darnell," said spokeswoman Marina Pi-a. "We are here to hear about how you can help with recent issues with the various police agencies in Farmington."
If the testimony given was accurate, the issue stems from racial profiling that includes practices that are illegal under federal and state law.
"The local police agencies seem like they are major collaborators with ICE," Pi-a said. "We are worried because families are pulled over and separated. People can be pulled over for running a red light and the Farmington police officer asks about immigration status. What we have seen recently is DWI checkpoints where, if they don't have a driver's license or consular I.D. on them, they are sent to immigration."
Often what happens, according to the testimony, is that even if people are citizens or legal to work and live in the U.S., they are split from their families and detained until their status can be proven.
"We are concerned about crime in the community," Pi-a said. "We are afraid to call the police because they will make an issue of our immigration status instead of addressing the problem. Also what's happening is we are not going to church, sending our children to school, because we are afraid immigration is going to pick us up."
The commission ultimately decided to invite local law enforcement leaders to its next meeting to discuss the issue, but they also recommended the group file a formal complaint with the Citizen Police Advisory Committee, an organization that oversees Farmington's police department.
Representatives from Somos Un Pueblo Unido had already met with Police Chief Kyle Westall, and were planning on submitting a formal complaint to the Farmington Police Department, the State Police and the County Sheriff.
When hearing about the possible cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE, Assistant City Manager Bob Campbell was nonplussed.
"If these allegations are correct, this doesn't seem like the protocol that we talked about with ICE when they said they were in the community," Campbell said.
Commissioner George Francis acknowledged that being stopped and asked for documentation based upon nationality was an example of discrimination. He also gave specific recommendations on the best way to record and formalize the specific complaints.
"Every instance this happens needs to be written down," he said. "Carry a notebook and write down what they said and what you said. Try to get the officer's name. This type of thing also happens with the Navajo, and it continues to happen."
Commissioner Charles Kromer also stressed the need to be specific.
"You need to be sure to include the details and the name of the person you have a complaint against because in our society we have the right to defend ourselves," Kromer said. Kromer was also worried about the commission's lack of jurisdiction over a federal agency like ICE.
In the end, commissioners agreed the best way to begin looking into the complaints was to begin by questioning law enforcement leaders.
In other business, the commission decided to spend $6,100 on continuing its radio campaign promoting Farmington to the Navajo Nation while expanding the program to tribes to the east like the Ute and Apache.