Immigration rights group holds rally near McGee Park

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FARMINGTON — The San Juan County Sheriff's Office denies civil rights abuse claims levied by a state immigration rights group during a rally Tuesday east of Farmington.

The Rally Against Trump's Deportation Machine was held in a gravel lot at the east entrance of McGee Park along County Road 5500, just north of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office Kirtland substation. It was staged by the Familia Unidas Por Justicia, the San Juan County membership team of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigration rights group.

Somos Un Pueblo Unido spokesman Emmanuelle "Neza" Leal-Sanchez assisted at the event Tuesday by translating for the speakers who spoke Spanish.

Approximately 30 to 35 people attended the event, holding hand-made signs with messages including "Don't separate my family" and "Sheriff and ICE go hand in hand."

The U.S. Census Bureau states about 3.7 percent of San Juan County's population was foreign-born in 2015, including legal residents and people who are living in the country without legal permission.

Georgina Davis of Crouch Mesa said she supported the immigrants and believes all people deserve the right to live and work where they want and to have a better life.

Leal-Sanchez said in past years the rally has celebrated International Workers Day. But since President Donald Trump took office, the event has taken a different tone to defend families and protect the civil rights of immigrants from entities including the Sheriff's Office, he said.

"The immigrant community here knows not to trust the sheriff's department," Leal-Sanchez said. "They know to fear the sheriff's department because any interaction could result in the separation of families."

Leal-Sanchez claims the Sheriff's Office collaborates with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, agents.

Capt. Brice Current of the Sheriff's Office said Somos Un Pueblo Unido uses scare tactics to further its political agenda. 

"These type of scare tactics should not be used with the people they represent," Current said.

The Sheriff's Office will not ask or research the immigration status of any victim, witnesses and informants involved in a case, according to Current.

Current added the Sheriff's Office also does not collaborate with ICE agents or give them support but will cooperate with them if a suspect is "here illegally" and is a criminal.

Sheriff Ken Christensen has previously told The Daily Times the claims from Somos Un Pueblo Unido are "nonsense."

One of the speakers on Tuesday, Luz Aide Hinojos, of Aztec, told the crowd a sheriff's deputy asked about her immigration status and her Social Security number during a 2016 traffic stop.

Hinojos added she asked the deputy if he was allowed to ask those questions. He replied no but asked if she would she provide the documents if he sent someone to her home according to Hinojos.

Leal-Sanchez said those negative interactions have a real, emotional consequence. He added Hinojos was exercising her civil rights when she told the sheriff's deputy she didn't have to share information regarding her immigration status.

Somos Un Pueblo Unido has information on its website regarding immigration status and civil rights issues at http://www.somosunpueblounido.org/know-your-rights.html.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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