Effort to Combat Drug Cartels Operating in New Mexico Spurs Racial Profiling Complaints

July 12, 2012 - 10:23 AM

(CNSNews.com) - The sheriff of San Juan County, N.M., says he has asked federal immigration agents to help him combat Mexican drug cartels operating in the Four Corners area.

The spot where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona come together is a tourist destination in an otherwise remote and rugged landscape.

The Associated Press quoted Sheriff Ken Christesen as saying that three cartels, including the violent Sinaloa Cartel, are using San Juan County's isolated roads to move illegal drugs from safe houses to cities across the country.

But law enforcement efforts to fight the cartels have generated protests from immigration activists, who filed racial profiling complaints against the sheriff’s department and the Farmington, N.M. police on Wednesday. The activists say law enforcement officials are using race and ethnicity to ask about people's immigration status.

The activists also filed complaints with the U.S. Homeland Security Department's inspector general and its office for civil rights, claiming that local DWI checkpoints are being used as immigration checkpoints. (On June 22, N.M. Gov. Susana Martinez announced a seasonal crackdown on drunk driving, dubbed "100 Days and Nights of Summer.")

Sheriff Christesen told the AP he had not seen the complaints. But he said federal immigration agents have been invited to Four Corners to help battle Mexican drug cartels, not to find illegal immigrants.

"What they are helping us with is going after those members of the cartels who are operating in our area," Christesen said. "We are not interested in enforcing federal immigration laws. We have enough on our hands up here."

Earlier this month, Diana Martwick, an Otero County, N.M. district attorney, also warned that "big-time gangs" -- Mexican drug cartels and motorcycle outlaws -- were operating in the Four Corners area.

"Gangs try to recruit our kids," the Alamogordo Daily News quoted Martwick as saying. "The reason why they want our children is because, with juvenile offenders, there's not a whole lot the court can do to them. Most of the offenses juveniles commit -- even drug trafficking -- is going to be two years of probation if the juvenile doesn't have a record. Juveniles aren't going to serve a whole lot of time. We're still a major drug corridor as evidence of our high-intensity drug trafficking grant."

Martwick also said that gangs are behind most violent crime in Otero and Lincoln Counties: "When you see the Zetas (Mexican drug cartel) up in Ruidoso at the racetrack, they're really here and they're real. I am not saying this is like Albuquerque or even Roswell. I want to get a handle on it before we become the next Roswell."