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A large crowd attended the event, requiring extra seating

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FARMINGTON — A large crowd attended a public forum regarding the topic of immigrant issues and policing — the first in a series of forums to address issues in the community.

The City of Farmington's Community Relations Commission hosted the first in the Transcending series of listening forums for the community Thursday evening at the Farmington Civic Center.

The goal of the series is to bring public interest groups and area leaders together to address topics in the community and engage in a dialogue to educate the audience on certain topics.

Panelists in the inaugural forum spoke for more than two hours about the interactions of law enforcement and members of the immigrant community, along with things undocumented immigrants deal with while living in the community.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe lead the discussion with panelists Eleana Butler, executive director of Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico; Cheri Floyd of the Community Relations Commission; Elsa Lopez, a community organizer for Somos un Pueblo Unido; Adriel Orozco, associate director for the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center; Arely Caro, director of the ENLACE program at San Juan College and Farmington Police Victim Advocate Sara Holiday.

For Hebbe, he was hoping to establish a dialogue regarding how Farmington police interacted with different minority communities during what he described as a "difficult time in our country" where a lot of polarization exists.

"We'll listen to things that maybe we don't agree with all of it but we'll hear somebody else's perspective on it and we'll leave here together as a better community," Hebbe told the crowd.

The forum started with each of the panelists introducing themselves and the work their organization does.

A good portion of the discussion focused on how the immigrant community interacts with area law enforcement and giving insight into how immigrants, including those who are undocumented, try to make a living and raise their families in the area.

Lopez spoke about how the Santa Fe-based immigrant rights group works to ensure undocumented immigrants are not unfairly detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

She also spoke about building a relationship with Hebbe since he became Farmington Police Chief more than five years ago.

Hebbe and Lopez spoke about the perception of law enforcement interacting with the immigrant community.

The chief reiterated it's his job to make sure everyone in the community is safe, and how it's Farmington police policy to not ask a person's immigration status during a traffic stop or investigation of a crime.

Butler stated Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico focuses on providing care and help for everyone regardless of their immigration status and supporting all survivors of sexual assault.

For students Caro works with at San Juan College, she stated a majority of their families are of mixed status with students born in the U.S. and parents or siblings who might be undocumented.

"With our students, we see a lot of uncertainty and we see a lot of fear. Which then turns up affecting their education," Caro said.

She added she often sees families that are victims of crimes that are nervous to report the crime or get help.

KSJE General Manager Scott Michlin moderated the forum and led the panel in a Q&A.

One of the questions posed to Hebbe from the audience was why Farmington police are protecting certain groups of people and not American citizens.

Hebbe responded by stating it rarely matters if someone is an American citizen or not when their vehicle is stolen or if they are battered, and the department largely doesn't care about immigration status when responding to calls.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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Sheriff's Office denies claims of immigrant civil rights abuses

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