Albuquerque Cops Cooperate with ICE and Operation Relentless Pursuit Despite City’s Sanctuary Policy

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In December 2019, the U.S. Justice Department announced a joint local-federal law enforcement operation called Operation Relentless Pursuit (ORP) for seven cities: Detroit, Memphis, Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Albuquerque. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the U.S. Marshals would join officers with the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) “to target gangs, drug trafficking and other violent crime.”

City and federal officials would later claim that nothing came from Operation Relentless Pursuit in Albuquerque because the City refused to coordinate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Albuquerque’s sanctuary policy declares it an “Immigrant friendly city” and it prohibits all “City agencies, departments, officers, employees, or agents” from using “City resources… moneys, equipment, personnel, or City facilities, to assist in or otherwise facilitate the enforcement of federal immigration law, or in the investigation, detection, apprehension, or detention of an individual based on the real or perceived immigration status of an individual.”

But despite claims it came to nothing, the arrival of Relentless Pursuit in New Mexico corresponded to a surge in ICE immigration raids and detentions throughout northern New Mexico, including in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, beginning in February of this year.

At the time, New Mexico’s U.S. Senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, complained to the acting director of ICE in a February letter about “disturbing accounts of ICE officers” posing as local police and “expanding activities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, targeting immigrant workers and families at home, at work, and after dropping their children off at school.” The Senators’ letter implied local police were not involved in the raids, and Albuquerque’s sanctuary policy would seem to confirm this. But as we reported last week, nearly everything that officials from the Department of Justice and the City of Albuquerque said about Operation Legend, a subsequent federal surge announced in July, turned out to be inaccurate or misleading. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller claimed he refused to cooperate, and even more that he was unaware of Operation Legend plans. But court documents, federal law, APD agreements, and current and past practices with federal agencies demonstrate that Albuquerque police have worked closely with federal agents in both Operation Legend and Operation Relentless Pursuit, including with analysts and agents at ICE and in violation of the City’s sanctuary policy.

APD Cooperates on Data Sharing with ICE

The language of Albuquerque’s sanctuary city policy is broad. It prohibits any local assistance related to the enforcement of immigration law, which includes a prohibition on sharing information with ICE related to immigration status. APD, however, works side-by-side with agents in every federal agency assigned to Operation Relentless Pursuit. And most of this coordination takes the form of data, information, and intelligence sharing agreements between APD and federal agencies.

APD has entered into a series of agreements of its own with a number of federal law enforcement agencies in recent years, and these remain in effect. On July 7, 2017, for example, former APD chief Gordon Eden signed an agreement with the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management’s Intelligence and Security Bureau (DHSEM ISB). This agreement gave NM DHS “user access to the APD Uniform Crime Reporting system (APD Records), to include but not limited to incident and accident reporting, supplemental reports and personal identification information to be used for the official business of the DHSEM ISB.” The New Mexico legislature classifies DHSEM as a criminal justice–law enforcement agency. Among its primary tasks is the operation of the fusion center in Santa Fe. The fusion center, known as “The New Mexico All Source Intelligence Center”, is a state-run data repository linked to other fusion centers around the country that extracts data, according to DHS, “from multiple sources, [and] perform[s] synthesis, fusion, and analysis,” of that data in order to disseminate this intelligence “to decision-makers in support of their tactical, operational and strategic planning.” These are enormous storehouses of data, mostly comprised of law-enforcement information culled from hundreds of local, regional and interagency police departments or task forces, but also includes information collected from local, regional, and state offices likes parks and recreation or motor vehicles. The federal Department of Homeland Security links its network of state-run fusion centers into an enormous database that it uses for many purposes, including immigration policing by ICE.

APD cooperates with ICE, by agreement and in practice, through the coordinated sharing of all of its data. In addition to DHS, APD maintains formal data sharing agreements with the FBI, the DEA, and AFT, all of which sent agents to Albuquerque as part of Operation Relentless Pursuit.

But even if the City invalidated those agreements and refused to share data with ICE, federal law would require it. Every time an APD officer searches the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the FBI’s main criminal records database, the FBI shares this information with ICE. The NCIC, according to the FBI, includes “over eleven million records” and has “90,000 participating agencies.” Each time APD arrests and fingerprints someone, for example, this information is sent to the FBI, which shares this with DHS so that ICE can determine if the person is subject to deportation.

The City’s sanctuary policy might prohibit APD from holding people that ICE flags for detention and might prohibit APD from delivering people into ICE custody when requested, but the agreements detailed above give DHS access to APD’s arrest data, among other information. Based on this information, immigration police could, for example, use APD’s own information to identify immigrants, locate their addresses, and show up to their home, as they did throughout February, in order to arrest and detain them. Sanctuary policies aside, these intelligence and data-sharing agreements and the enormous local-regional-federal databases to which APD contributes, automate the coordination and cooperation between APD and ICE related to immigration policing. The City may deny it, but federal law requires it, and APD agreed to it.

APD Coordination with ICE in the Streets 

While APD’s data sharing agreements alone violate the City’s sanctuary policy, APD coordinates with ICE in other ways too. Consider the recent arrests that the U.S. Attorney claims were part of Operation Legend. When President Trump announced the expansion of Operation Legend into Albuquerque in late July of this year, he called it a planned “surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime.” Mayor Keller denied knowledge of the Operation and promised to refuse to coordinate with the Trump administration. But the criminal complaints filed by law enforcement officers in Operation Legend arrests demonstrate a pattern of close coordination among local police departments, including APD, and all federal agencies involved.

On June 25, for example, police arrested Carlos Travon Morris for possession of a semi-automatic pistol. The US Attorney declared the arrest, based on a joint APD-ATF investigation, part of Operation Legend even though the investigation began prior to the announcement of Operation Legend. The City claims it isn’t cooperating, but the criminal complaint reveals close, on-the-ground, ongoing coordination between APD and Operation Legend. And the close coordination between APD and various federal agencies is not just a product of signed agreements and federal law, it’s also a product of personal and professional relationships, and shared personnel among APD and federal agencies.  One of the arresting officers in the Morris case, ATF Agent Charles DuBois, spent 12 years with APD before joining ATF. And he worked closely with APD officers throughout the investigation.

This coordination is a feature of all policing in Albuquerque. Consider the FBI’s Violent Crime Task Force (VCTF) in Albuquerque. On August 14, the US Attorney announced that an Operation Legend investigation resulted in the arrest of David Martinez and Jean Madrid on firearms and narcotics charges. The groundwork for the Martinez-Madrid case was laid in July, before Operation Legend expanded to Albuquerque, when the VCTF, according to the complaint, “utilized a confidential informant to conduct a controlled buy of methamphetamine from Martinez at his residence.” The officer who filed the affidavit, Paul Montoya, has been a local Sheriff’s Deputy in Albuquerque for eight years and currently serves as a Task Force officer with the FBI.

Or consider the New Mexico Region I Narcotics Task Force, an operation coordinated by DEA that includes agents from the FBI, ICE, ATF, the Central Intelligence Agency, and a number of local and regional New Mexico law enforcement agencies, including APD. While Albuquerque’s sanctuary policy expressly prohibits APD from coordinating on immigration policing with ICE, the close cooperation and coordination that APD maintains with federal agencies including ICE is required by federal law and made possible by the close data and intelligence-sharing agreements to which APD willingly agreed.

Immigration policing in Albuquerque is carried out on-the-ground by agents linked to APD by task forces and close professional relationships, and by agencies bound together by shared data and personnel in patterns of cooperation that blur any distinction between local and federal law enforcement.

And finally, while there is no evidence beyond the anecdotal that local Albuquerque police deliver people to ICE or join ICE agents when it rounds people up in immigration raids, there is no doubt those raids could not happen in Albuquerque without APD’s help. APD gathers enormous amounts of information for a number of its own databases through partnerships with retailers, hotels and motels, neighborhood associations, and more. While it has never admitted it publicly, it gives analysts and agents from multiple federal agencies unfettered access to this information, and this includes agents from various DHS directorates such as Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Patrol, and DHS Intelligence & Analysis.

Albuquerque police cooperate directly with ICE in violation of the City’s sanctuary policy and this is not the exception. It’s the rule.

Justin Bendell, Matteo MacDermant, and David Correia work with AbolishAPD, a research collective working to abolish the Albuquerque Police Department. They can be reached at