Local Police Work with ICE in “Sanctuary Cities”
Even in so-called “sanctuary cities” where civic leaders have declared a policy of non-cooperation with ICE, local law enforcement continue to work with the ham fisted deportation agency.
On Sunday, August 11th, 2019, my drive to a local lake for a swim was interrupted by a chilling reality: even in the “sanctuary cities” of California, Latinx communities are facing an increase of police detention and surveillance, despite being the victims of the increasing violence in this country.
I stopped at an Arco gas station in Livermore, California, only to be met by the sight of two police SUV’s detaining a man at the gas stop. A Latinx man, handcuffed and detained by four Livermore police officers, was being asked to unbuckle his belt and pants.
“Whats going on?” I asked in Spanish to a woman nearby who was crying and being asked to get back in her car by one of the police officers. “Is this about immigration?”
“They want to take my husband to check him,” she said. “They want to take him.”
“I have the right to be here,” he said to me in Spanish after the cops left. “I have the papers, and I have a right to work here. I don’t know why they stopped me, I just stopped to get gas.”
It was a frightening sight and a reminder that even though we are currently the targets of the increasing domestic terror threat, the local law enforcement agencies continue to focus on us instead of the actual threat: white supremacy.
Livermore, California is designated a “sanctuary city,” which means that local law enforcement agencies are not supposed to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to deport local civilians. It is now federal policy that when people are take into custody or held in jail, their residency status must be reported to ICE agents.
In many places, this has been taken to the extreme: a traffic stop can end in deportation.
In “sanctuary cities,” this is not supposed to happen. These cities are designated for people to feel safe interacting with local law enforcement and report crimes without the fear of detention & deportation.
But the reality is, many of these cities are being undermined by the very officers instructed not to cooperate with ICE.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, workers at the Bernalillo County jail regularly allowed ICE access to their database of incarcerated people, sometimes even directly tipping off ICE agents when a person of interest to the agency was about to be released.
In just May of this year, ICE launched the Warrant Service Officer (WSO) program, whereby local officers are granted the right to conduct immigration arrests.
“The agency explicitly aims to subvert the will of local communities that have passed ordinances to prevent exactly this kind of cooperation between police and ICE,” Lorella Praeli, ACLU deputy political director, told VOA News in May 2019.
The cooperation of local law enforcement in sanctuary cities with ICE is not new and is being challenged in court. On July 31st, immigration lawyers in Daly City, California, filed a formal complaint against the Daly City Police Department after officers delivered a local man detained in a routine traffic stop to ICE agents.
The complaint states that Daly City police violated the California Values Act, specifically the “prohibition against asking about immigration status, notifying ICE, providing personal information to ICE, arresting based on a civil immigration warrant, detaining individuals for ICE, and the prohibition against transferring individuals to ICE custody.”
It’s clear to me now that what I witnessed on Sunday, August 11th, 2019 at the Arco gas station in Livermore could have easily amounted to another perpetration by local police officers of the California Values Act. The Latinx man in question was stopped for no apparent reason while trying to get gas for his car, was held in handcuffs and asked to strip. Everyone involved was clear that they were searching for documentation of his legal status in the United States. He was only let go after I stopped and began asking questions.
“The Latinx man in question was stopped for no apparent reason while trying to get gas for his car, was held in handcuffs and asked to strip.”
The officers who held this man wore Livermore Police badges: they were not active ICE agents.
We must stay extremely vigilant and aware of our rights as Latinx people, especially at this time of escalation of violence due to systemic racism in this country. While white supremacists continue to buy assault weapons and fire at innocent civilians in the name of protecting “their land” from the “Hispanic invasion,” police and local law enforcement continue to focus on the question of legal status of immigrants instead of the decimation of their own people.
While the work of fighting injustice at the legal level is invaluable to the movement against the rising tide of facism and racism in this country, we must work together to support each other in this moment. Cop watching is an invaluable tool against the oppression of people by local law enforcement. The principle is quite simple: law enforcement agents are less brazen when they know they are being witnessed.
This is the time to wake up and realize that even in the places where you feel you might be safe (be it the “liberal lands” of California; great metropolitan areas where there’s safety in numbers; and in predominately Latinx communities around this country), we need to stand up for each other and fight together.
When they come for one of us today, they will come for all of us tomorrow.