Española: Sanctuary City?

Gallegos at City council

Española: Sanctuary City?

By Robert A. Naranjo

Tuesday night the Española City Council unanimously adopted a new anti-profiling policy for its police department. The new policy reinforces a 2009 state law that prohibits discrimination, but goes further by saying that officers are not to ask about immigration status.

For the past few months this new policy has been drafted and vetted by the Police Department, promoted by an immigrant activist group known for fighting for worker’s rights, “Somos Un Pueblo Unido” (We Are A United Community), and reviewed by the Public Safety Committee. Its passage on Tuesday night is viewed by many as a step towards better community policing. But the new policy also opens up the politically sensitive issue around undocumented immigration and the label of “Sanctuary City” (A City with policies to not prosecute undocumented immigrants).

When asked for comment following the Council vote, Española Police Chief Richard Gallegos stated “We are here to protect all people, regardless of who they are.

There are families and individuals who are victims of serious crimes or are witnesses to crimes and it is important that they trust the police. They are afraid to come to the police. We want to make sure that that doesn’t happen in our city, that they are treated equal and that they know they can talk to police without putting themselves or their family at risk.”

Chief Gallegos added that the police department began looking at this issue after Somos Un Pueblo Unido reached out to them a few months back in regards to bias and profiling.

A spokesman for “Somos Española,” (We Are Española), Ramon Granillo, a local group affiliated with Somos Un Pueblo Unido, spoke to the Española City Council during Public Comments.

Mr. Granillo spoke in Spanish with a translation to English conducted by another member of Somos Española.  Mr. Granillo said that the local Somos Española was comprised of 3O families “that live in the area.”  He said that the population of the City of Española has 12% “origen estranjero” meaning they are not from this area, literally meaning “stranger,” but, by and large, it means Mexican Nationals who live within the City of Española.

The City had a population of 1O,224 in 2O14 according to Census Bureau estimates, so based on Mr. Granillo’s statements, there are roughly 1,226 Mexican Nationals living within the city limits. Of these, Mr. Granillo stated that 4O% are undocumented or about 489.  The rest (roughly 735) are citizens or have other legal status.

When reached for comment about the policy, City Manager Kelly Duran stated “I don’t believe the City of Española would be a sanctuary city for any immigrant. If an immigrant is the subject of a criminal investigation, nothing would change. Española’s new policy simply states we will not use profiling to judge the merits of that case.”

During his comments to the City Council Mr. Granillo stated “One of the main problems our families were facing is the separation of their families if one member were arrested, put in jail and deported because the jail was working with the “Migra” (euphamisim for Immigration and Naturalization Enforcement, ICE). He added, “We were seeing a lot of people who are incarcerated being deported because of the cooperation between jail and immigration authorities. This has led to mistrust of the police departments by the Mexican community.”

“For a year we have met with Chief Gallegos and Deputy Chief Maes to tell him about the problem and the mistrust of the authorities that our community has with the police because they think they may be deported,” Granillo said.

“Chief Gallegos decided to take our recommendations to draft a new policy to build trust between our community and the police. This is big step forward when one looks at the national debate on immigration which is very divisive,” Granillo said. “Thank you to Chief Gallegos and Deputy Chief Maes for their leadership and we ask you (City Council) to support this new policy. I feel especially proud to live in this City that this policy sends a clear message that the Española City Police is here to protect everyone in the community,” Granillo said.