FARMINGTON — Manuel Paez returned from the North Dakota oil fields where he was working to Farmington for a week last December to visit his family. He didn't realize he was about to be unwillingly separated from his son and other loved ones.
Paez's sister, Estefania Ortiz, spoke about her brother's detainment during a protest Thursday marking National Day of Action to Stop Separating Families. The protest — attended by about 100 people — was put on by Somos Un Pueblo Unido and Familias Unidas por Justicia.
Paez was getting his 8-year-old son ready for school on Dec. 3 when he heard the police knocking at the door, she said. He opened the door, thinking they were looking for his neighbor. Instead, she said, Farmington police officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents barged into his house and arrested him in front of his two young sons.
He was detained for three months before he was given a work permit and released.
While speaking, Ortiz talked about the effect her brother's arrest had on his children, especially on the 8 year old.
"He made the connection that police and ICE are the same people," Ortiz said.
Protesters held signs and marched along the side walk at the Farmington Museum.
The protest was one of thousands of events across the country demanding action to keep families together.
Emma Acosta stood on the sidewalk with the other protesters. She wiped a tear from her eye as she thought of her son. Ricardo Olivas, who is currently detained in El Paso following his July arrest in Farmington.
Her daughter-in-law, Kristiana Olivas, tried to make a formal complaint at the Farmington Police Department before the protest on Thursday, but was turned away. She emailed it to Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe. The complaint accused the police department of violating the Prohibition of Profiling Practices Act.
Olivas said her husband, Ricardo, was driving to work on July 11 when he was pulled over for driving without a license plate on his trailer. He had lost his identification and was cited for driving without a license and without registration, she said.
Ricardo Olivas, who has lived in the United States for most of his life and is married to a U.S. citizen, was detained until Erich Anderson, an ICE agent, could arrive, she said.
Anderson, who spoke in a phone interview Thursday, referred comment to the ICE public information officer, who could not be reached Thursday night. However Anderson said he remembered the case and that there were criminal charges brought against Olivas.
"It wasn't anything to do with immigration," Anderson said.
Elsa Lopez, a Somos Un Pueblo Unido community organizer, called the San Juan County Detention Center following his arrest and asked what the charges were. She was informed that he was being held because of an ICE detainer.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido submitted a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on Thursday because the organization alleges that ICE violated its detainer policy when it arrested Ricardo Olivas. The policy states that ICE cannot issue a detainer unless a local law enforcement official acted independently to arrest an illegal immigrant, and detainers cannot be issued for an immigrant temporarily detained by local law enforcement.
"It's very painful to have to be away from your family," Juan Jimenez said on Thursday.
Jimenez was arrested the same day Paez was arrested. He was held for a few months before being released with a work permit.
"I believe that it is not fair and it is not just that ICE is permanently in our community," he said in Spanish. "It is not fair that they're separating our families."