SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – The telegenic Hispanic mayor of the nation's oldest state capital has become a public face of "sanctuary cities" following Donald Trump's presidential victory.
Javier Gonzales sat down with Fox and CNN anchors last week to denounce Trump's renewed vows to deport millions of immigrants and his campaign promises to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities that defy immigration authorities. Gonzales happened to be in New York for a conference on mental health care and scored a national media platform.
Santa Fe isn't the typical U.S. sanctuary city. Its population is about 70,000, and its immigrant communities are dwarfed by those in major cities with sanctuary-like policies, like Los Angeles and Chicago. It also has a unique immigration history, dating to the Spanish conquest in the 1500s and 1600s.
"Where we're unique is that Mexican and the Central American and the South American immigration have been part of Santa Fe's story for those 400 years," said Gonzales, whose father also was a Santa Fe mayor.
That story remains the source of public pride and pageantry in Santa Fe during an annual costumed re-enactment of the Spanish re-conquest of the city after a Native American revolt in 1680. The procession depicts a peaceful, almost welcome return of the Spanish — despite increasingly disruptive protests and recriminations in recent years based on the early suffering of Native Americans.
Gonzales as a young man played the lead role of conquistador Don Diego de Varga. As mayor, Gonzales has had to referee public objections by Native Americans and others who contend the re-conquest was brutal and the modern festival is offensive and hurtful.
Santa Fe's embrace of sanctuary-city status dates to the 1999 adoption of an ordinance that says "no municipal resources will be used to identify or apprehend any non-citizen resident solely on the basis of immigration status, unless otherwise lawfully required to do so."
That means local police do not enforce noncriminal warrants from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or so-called detainer requests to delay the release of immigrants arrested on minor offenses, city spokesman Matt Ross said.
The municipal police department has a written policy of not making arrests based solely on immigration status, but officers are allowed to share information on other arrests with federal immigration agencies. No other New Mexico city has similar sanctuary provisions, and most county sheriff's offices cooperate closely with immigration enforcement.
That type of assistance from small cities and rural counties is important to federal immigration officials, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which calls for lower U.S. immigration levels.
Federal authorities often have fewer resources in those areas and rely on county jails and sheriff's departments to detain or delay the release of immigrants flagged for violations, Vaughan said. She estimates about 300 jurisdictions nationwide have sanctuary-style policies.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gonzales brushed off critical and derogatory Twitter postings about his television appearances and said the onus will be on Trump to address the country's immigration problems. Santa Fe receives about $6 million a year, or 2 percent of its budget, from the U.S. government — money that would be in jeopardy if Trump's administration decided to strike back against sanctuary cities.
"We'll see if the president-elect chooses to penalize sanctuary cities before he proposes one piece of legislation that fixes a broken immigration system," Gonzales said. "That tells you a lot about his priorities."
Gonzales has framed the sanctuary city debate around moral values and economic common sense, questioning the wisdom of uprooting productive families when no serious crime is involved.
"It's much bigger than federal funding," he said. "It's really an issue about the values of Santa Fe and what we prioritize when it comes to how we want to live."
A self-described progressive who also works for a real estate company on energy efficiency projects, Gonzales recently announced plans to ask voters to increase taxes on soda and other sugary drinks to finance more early childhood education programs.
His other initiatives include a newly approved "verde fund" that sets aside money for environmental and anti-poverty projects.
Despite its sanctuary provisions, Santa Fe maintains a "really good working relationship and understanding" with federal immigration authorities, Gonzales said.
"What it's meant is we get the bad guys when we need to."