Feds didn’t make arrests at Doña Ana County schools, officials say

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Rumors spread Wednesday that federal agents were at schools in Doña Ana County arresting immigrants living in the United States without legal status, but officials say that didn’t happen.

Border Patrol

Courtesy photo

This photo circulated Wednesday showing a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle parked at Mesquite Elementary School. An agent was there for a school event, not to enforce immigration law, a school district official says.

While U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were conducting a raid at various locations in Las Cruces, a photo circulated of a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle at Mesquite Elementary School in Southern Doña Ana County.

That sparked concerns among immigrant advocates that federal agents might be breaking with a policy that states they should generally not enforce immigration law at “sensitive places” such as schools and churches. But a school district spokesman says the Border Patrol agent was at Mesquite Elementary for a partners-in-education event, not to enforce immigration law.

Rumors spread rapidly among immigrant communities, which often rely on word-of-mouth communication. Many people are on edge because of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and threats of mass deportations. And in at least once recent incident at a church in Illinois, agents made an arrest in spite of the policy.

That sensitive places memo was issued in 2011 while Barack Obama was U.S. President. Now that Trump is president, the policy officially remains in place for now (at least on the ICE and Border Patrol websites).

ICE has been tight-lipped about Wednesday’s raid in Las Cruces and says enforcement actions it is conducting are “routine.” A Border Patrol spokesman told NMPolitics.net last week there had been no changes in how it enforces the law since Trump became president.

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And officials with school districts said federal agents haven’t targeted schools here. The Border Patrol agent was at Mesquite Elementary on Wednesday — the same day ICE was conducting its raid in Las Cruces — at the invitation of the school’s counselor, according to Luis Villalobos, spokesman for the Gadsden Independent School District. Border Patrol agents, he said, “frequently go to schools and read and do more engagement with students.”

“They are a fantastic partner in education throughout the district,” Villalobos said. “The action that they have on our school property is supportive of our students in the schools. They weren’t using that opportunity for anything else.”

Similarly, Jo Galván, spokeswoman for the Las Cruces Public Schools, said there had been no reported incidents of federal agents watching or making arrests at any schools in that district.