Immigration agents arrest 23 across New Mexico, West Texas

Federal agents arrested 23 people on suspicion of being in the country illegally as they served notices of employment audits to over 100 businesses in New Mexico and west Texas, immigration officials said Monday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents made the arrests over the past week, according to an email from agency regional spokeswoman Nina Pruneda. She said three of the arrested individuals face criminal charges related to illegal re-entry to the United States after deportation or firearm possession or both.

Of the audit notices, 68 were served on businesses across a swath of 18 counties in western Texas.

Businesses were given three days to provide hiring records that deal with employees' immigration status. Such employment audits and interviews can lead to criminal charges or fines.

The federal "worksite enforcement strategy is focused on protecting jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminating unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthening public safety and national security," Pruneda said in a written statement.

New Mexico immigrant rights advocates and officials in Santa Fe said four people were arrested locally and the six business audit notices were sowing fear and uncertainty in the community.

"It absolutely disrupts people's lives and the harmony of the city," Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said at a news conference. He accused the Trump administration of bullying.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia said the actions by immigration authorities are piling new anxiety on students already traumatized by common concerns about gun violence.

Marcela Diaz, executive director of the immigrant-advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, described several immigration-related arrests in Santa Fe last week that may not be tied to the sweep at businesses. One person was detained in a magistrate court parking lot, and two people attended regularly scheduled parole hearings without emerging as relatives waited outside.

She declined to identify affected individuals or local businesses because immigration audits are ongoing.