Panel teaches Rocinante High School students about immigration

Immigrants tell their stories about being detained

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Somos Un Pueblo Unido community organizer Elsa Lopez, center, talks about immigration, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, at Rocinante High School in Farmington.
  • The panel is part of Rocinante High School's move to more project-based learning.

FARMINGTON — People with various views about immigration sat down Monday and participated in a student-moderated panel discussion at Rocinante High School.

The panelists included law enforcement leaders, an immigrant rights group community organizer and a county commissioner, as well as some whose lives are directly impacted by federal policies on undocumented immigrants.

Principal Peter Deswood described the panel as a student-centered, student-driven project that brought issues that impact the community to the forefront.

“It is important to have these difficult conversations,” Deswood said. “Whenever there are issues like this, it’s important to talk about it and that’s one of the things we are trying to teach our students.”

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said he enjoys participating in such panels because it gives a chance for people to listen to both sides of an issue. He said in today’s climate people are divided — and loud.

“The answers are almost always simplistic,” he said. “Either build a wall or develop a sanctuary city and that fixes everything. The reality, of course, is that it doesn’t.”

Hebbe stressed that the issues surrounding immigration are not black and white.

Arely Caro, the director of Herencia Latina and ENLACE at San Juan College, talks about immigration, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, during a panel discussion at Rocinante High School in Farmington.

Panel results from recent detentions

The panel resulted from recent detentions of undocumented immigrants in the Farmington community.

“Our high school is going through a transformation where we’re focused on project-based learning,” said Deswood.

After the panel, Deswood said he anticipates the school will have similar activities in the future.

During the week of Sept. 25, several undocumented immigrants were detained by ICE agents.

“On Sept. 25, I had students come into my class sobbing and unable to stop crying,” said English teacher Rebecca Lovelace.

She said the students told her they had had family members taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or forced into hiding.

“The individuals that were targeted during that time had federal warrants signed by a federal judge,” said Sheriff-elect Shane Ferrari, who is currently the undersheriff. His agency assisted in some of the cases and an ICE agent is currently stationed at one of the sheriff’s office substations.

Ferrari said ICE is focused on removing criminals from the community.

Sheriff-elect Shane Ferrari, County Commissioner Jack Fortner and Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe participate in an immigration panel, Monday at Rocinante High School.

“New Mexico has no immigration law whatsoever,” Ferrari said. “But as law enforcement we do use our federal partners to keep the peace and uphold the law in San Juan County.”

Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett emphasized that law enforcement is there to enforce laws.

“We have created a nation here that’s built around laws and those laws are important and we have to uphold those laws and we have to respect those laws because they’re here for all of us,” he said.

Immigrant rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido community organizer Elsa Lopez said many immigrants live in mixed-status families where some family members are citizens while others are undocumented.

“When ICE moves into town, it impacts not just undocumented immigrants,” she said.

Lopez said detention of undocumented immigrants impacts the entire family and makes undocumented immigrants less likely to turn to law enforcement to report crimes.

“That doesn’t just harm immigrants,” she said. “That harms everyone’s public safety.”

Ferrari said undocumented immigrants should not be afraid of reporting crimes.

“I want them to know they can walk into the sheriff’s office and not fear being turned over to immigration just on status alone,” he said.

Immigrants tell stories of being detained

Lopez introduced Farmington-resident Maria Viveros and Gabriela Piñon, who told their story about being detained in September. Both women say they were mistaken for someone else and the charges against them have been dropped.

“But my life changed,” Viveros said.

She said she no longer feels safe at home. She said her family is traumatized by the experience. She said everybody jumps each time someone knocks on their front door because they are scared of who might be on the other side.

In addition, Viveros said she feels nervous when she goes to pick up her grandchildren from school. She said during her court hearing, an ICE agent said officers had been following her for days.

“It was a mistake, but I was arrested,” Viveros said.

Piñon also said ICE agents had followed her for days prior to detaining her. She spent about a week incarcerated. She said she lost a semester of school at San Juan College because she had been detained.

“Like (Maria Viveros), we live in fear,” Piñon said.

Ferrari said mistaken identity is not uncommon for various reasons, including misinformation and stolen identification.

“As law enforcement, quite often, this does happen,” he said. “We’re not proud of it.”

Ferrari said two sheriff’s office deputies assisted with detaining Viveros. He said it was unfortunate that Viveros was wrongfully identified as a different person.

County Commissioner Jack Fortner also expressed his sympathies to Viveros and said he was sorry she had been detained. Fortner told her in Spanish that his grandparents had moved to the United States from Mexico.

“When I was in college, my grandmother got her green card and I carry it with me,” Fortner said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at