Wyoming Latino community leaders voiced their concerns to a Mexican consul general last week about aggressive new Trump administration deportation policies.
Consul General Berenice Rendón visited Cheyenne from Denver with her staff on Wednesday. She met with the community leaders and activists at a Catholic Church in South Cheyenne after a day spent in discussion with local law enforcement heads and government officials, including Gov. Matt Mead.
Rendón’s visit comes amid stepped up efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants, both nationally and in Wyoming. The immigrant community is increasingly concerned by data and official statements that suggest deportations have broadened beyond those with criminal records, to include law-abiding friends and neighbors.
At the church, Rendón sought to reassure those gathered that both Cheyenne Chief of Police Brian Kozak and Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick told her they weren’t engaged in immigration enforcement.
Rendón also said the Mexican government was beefing up legal assistance provided by its consulates in response to the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement actions and recent “rhetoric.” Though the consulate is in Denver, far from many of the Mexican communities in Wyoming, Rendón said they can also provide a safe space for an undocumented immigrant to report a crime.
Some of the immigration activists present, who came from as far as Rock Springs and Gillette, said they remained skeptical of law enforcement’s assurances to Rendón. “That’s what they’re saying now,” said Sandra Loza, of Laramie. “They say one thing and do another.”
At a press conference the same day, Mead told reporters he couldn’t offer any assurances about Wyoming’s law enforcement agencies to immigrant communities in the state.
“I’m not one who believes that we ought to have sanctuary cities,” Mead said. He was referring to municipalities across the country where local law enforcement is prohibited from cooperating with federal authorities on immigration law or at times from even inquiring about someone’s immigration status.
His opposition came from his prior experience as a prosecutor, Mead said. Cooperation between local and federal law enforcement agencies is essential for public safety, he said, and sanctuary cities create dangerous “silos” of information that can’t be shared.
“If you have somebody that’s here in the country illegally,” Mead said, “and they also happen to be involved in other criminal activities … whether it’s drug running or gun running or terrorism, to not be able to share that information I think creates a problem for law enforcement.”
The majority of the meeting between governor and consul general centered around trade issues, not immigration, both parties said. In an interview with WyoFile, Rendón said her role is not to interfere in state politics in regard to immigration issues. Her office exists to support Mexican nationals living in the United States.
However, she said, the message she had for Wyoming residents was that Mexican immigrants play a role in the state’s economy. “They come here because you need them,” she said. “Our community goes where there is a job opportunity.”
Some immigrants open restaurants and other businesses, contributing to local economies and community life, she said.
Worries about Cheyenne Sheriff
Cheyenne-based activists had particular concerns about Sheriff Danny Glick. Antonio Serrano, the chairman Juntos, an activist group, told WyoFile that in 2009 the Sheriff appeared eager to register his department for the 287(g) program. The program deputizes local law enforcement agencies for immigration enforcement around the country. Glick’s sentiments may not have changed that much since, Serrano said.
In June, Glick told WyoFile his department did reach out to ICE in 2009, but chose not to join the 287(g) program because of budget restraints — it required extra training that the federal government wasn’t going to pay for. Since then, he said, “we have just sat back and watched stuff go on.”
Many people have vocalized their displeasure with local police and sheriffs getting involved in immigration enforcement, Glick said. But the sentiment isn’t universal. “We’ve got another element within our population base saying ‘no pick them up and get them out of here,’” he said.
In March of 2016, Glick again raised the ire of some in Cheyenne’s immigrant community. He told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle he was concerned about “OTMs,” a label he applied to immigrants other than Mexicans coming over the southern border. He was referring in particular to practitioners of Islam, according to the paper.
At the church last week, at least, it was clear his remarks hurt trust between the immigrant community and the law officer.
Glick told WyoFile in June if undocumented immigrants are picked up for crimes, his department is not holding them longer than is allowed under current law. Pasts requests that were often issued by ICE to hold undocumented people longer are facing court challenges. Until they are resolved, his department will not honor any such request, Glick said.
However, he also said there are ICE agents in Cheyenne, and so holding undocumented immigrants picked up for crimes like drunk driving longer than allowed isn’t as necessary as in other cities. “When we notify ICE that we’re getting ready to release somebody on local charges,” he said, “they’re right here if they want to pick somebody up and go through federal processes.”
At the church, Carol Pascal, an immigration activist, said she believed the Sheriff’s department was sending fingerprints to ICE for anyone who appeared hispanic. Officers discussed those community concerns in March, according to emails WyoFile obtained via a records request to the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department. “Must be some misconceptions,” Lieutenant Shawn Olsen wrote in an email to Captain Mike Sorensen. “We send all prints to the Feds now, ICE requests the prints they want.” Both men are in the detentions division, according to the Sheriff’s Department website.
The meeting with the consul general was interesting, Serrano said, but much of the information provided was not new to him. He does not trust the Sheriff’s department, and said reports from the immigrant community continue to indicate they’re making stops on people who look hispanic and checking their papers. “We know that they’re doing it,” he said.
Capt. Sorenson denied that assessment and said the Sheriff’s department only arrests undocumented immigrants who commit crimes. “We don’t actively profile or look for people that aren’t citizens,” he said by phone Friday.
Generally, Serrano said communicating with local law enforcement can be useful, but is not the core of his organization’s mission. After all, increased immigration enforcement will come from the federal government, not the sheriff or local police.
The goal for Juntos is to create a support network for the Latino community and inform undocumented immigrants of the rights they do have, Serrano said. The group is also working to create teams that can respond to reports of detentions by ICE by calling immigration attorneys and supporting the detainees family.
“We’re not going to stop a deportation,” Serrano said. “We’re not going to get anybody any kind of legal status.” However, they can make sure people are prepared, he said. Immigrant children can have someone signed up as their guardian, so that they don’t go into the foster care system. And families can have prepared paperwork so they don’t lose records of, or access to, their banking and retirement accounts.
Rendón addressed that last concern during the meeting. The Mexican government is developing a program to educate and assist deportees with recovering assets left behind in the U.S, she said. It’s called “Defensa de Patrimonia,” which translates to defense of wealth.
Catch up on WyoFile’s recent coverage of Wyoming immigrants during the Trump administration: