Three men wearing plain clothes walked into Quechua Peruvian Restaurant in Taos just before noon Tuesday (Feb. 27). Trotsky Barreto, owner of the restaurant, first thought they might have been tourists, regulars here in the heart of Taos. But as Barreto went for some menus, one of the men introduced himself as an officer with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, more commonly known as ICE.
They wanted to see Barreto’s paperwork, his business license, and any I-9s, proof a person can legally work in the United States. There wasn’t much to see, as Barreto had been open for less than a year. On many days, he was the only one behind the counter.
He knew he had nothing to hide. But before answering, Barreto asked for identification from the man, who opened his jacket to reveal a shiny badge bearing the seal of the United States Department of Homeland Security, a federal agency that has been under marching orders to ramp up audits of businesses and detainments of undocumented workers throughout the United States, especially in border states like New Mexico.
By the measures set forth under the Trump Administration, officially issued as part of the executive order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” ICE has been successful.
According to the agency’s 2017 end-of-year report, an increasing number of business owners and their workers in the United States are seeing the DHS seal, with 143,470 arrests recorded last year, a roughly 30 percent increase over the 110,104 arrests recorded in 2016.
ICE didn’t detain or arrest anyone at Quechua last week, but rumors have circulated in the days since that officers also visited several other businesses in the Taos area and may have detained an unconfirmed number of workers.
Asked about recent activity in Taos, DHS Public Affairs Officer Leticia Zamarripa replied in an email, “As a matter of policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on ongoing operations or plans for future law enforcement operations. ICE routinely conducts work site investigations in order to uphold federal law …”
When the officers left last week, Barreto called his accountant to prepare the paperwork. Then he called his wife, Gloria Hidrogo, a Mexican immigrant who had once lived in the United States without legal documentation, but who has since become a U.S. citizen.
Hidrogo works as an artist and an immigrant activist in Taos, one of many advocating for millions of undocumented immigrants and families living in a country where policy regarding their presence has entered an acute, and for many, disconcerting state of flux under the Trump Administration.
Before her husband had told her the whole story, Hidrogo could fill in many of the blanks.
Ever in limbo
Hidrogo grew up in Zacatecas, a lush agricultural state in north central Mexico. She worked as a painter in her hometown and decided to visit her grandfather, a U.S. citizen living in California, in 1987 when she turned 17.
A work permit allowed her to stay for six months legally, but by the time the permit expired, she said she couldn’t return to Mexico. “It was much scarier 20 years ago,” she said. “You cannot go back to your place because it’s dangerous. You’re not a part of there and you’re not a part of here. You don’t have a place.”
Hidrogo stayed and worked, sending wages far higher than what she could make in her own country back to her family in Zacatecas. But she said she was afraid to leave her home or drive her car for fear of being pulled over.
When she turned 21, her father came to visit her and acquired his green card, allowing him to legally live in the U.S. When Hidrogo attempted to do the same, she found the process extremely difficult, costly and time-consuming. It took three years for her to get her green card. Her citizenship came three years after that.
“I learned a lesson that we have to support other immigrants,” she said.
Hidrogo has worked as an activist for several years now and was invited to speak at the White House four years ago. For a time, she returned to Mexico, where she worked at a local university. She told students her story, describing the potential dangers of trying to find a home in the United States.
She returned last year with Barreto, a Peruvian immigrant, and they moved to Taos.
Hidrogo said that even after they gained their citizenship, they have continued to be cautious, but the encounter with ICE officers last week took them both by surprise.
They knew Taos to be an “Immigrant Friendly County,” but they also knew that designation offers no protection against federal powers.
Hidrogo said the ICE officers visited their accountant on Thursday (March 1) and picked up the requested documentation.
But like other individuals and families in Taos, and elsewhere in the United States, they can’t be certain when they might next have to prove their legal right to be here.
The March 8 print edition of this story erroneously named Kenyi Abe as Gloria Hidrogo's husband and the person who encountered ICE officers at Quechua Peruvian Restaurant on Feb. 27. Hidrogo's husband is Trotsky Barreto, and Barreto dealt with ICE officers Feb. 27. The Taos News regrets this error and any inconvenience it has caused Quechua Peruvian Restaurant and those who agreed to serve as sources on this story.