Citing fear of deportations, the Oakland City Council this week rescinded a 2016 agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — a move that could help shield undocumented residents from the federal government, but could also stymie local policing efforts in the areas of human trafficking, narcotics smuggling and other cross-border crimes.
The agreement allowed local law enforcement investigators to be deputized as Homeland Security Investigations task force officers and is limited to solving crimes — excluding cases that fall directly under immigration law — according to the San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo counties have similar arrangements in place.
The prospect of revoking the agreement was disparaged by the city’s deputy police chief last week, according to the Chronicle. Deputy Chief Danielle Outlaw told a city public safety committee that active investigations into sex and labor trafficking would be hurt. A report issued by the city’s police chief in May indicated that the department had only been involved in one ICE operation in recent months.
But Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission advocated that the agreement be terminated due to the threat of police data being shared with federal agencies. And even the potential of an information-funnel between the city and the Trump administration could damage public trust — and influence which crimes get reported.
“Even though it might not be immigration-enforcement-related, it’s still this guilt-by-association chilling effect we’re seeing,” Brian Hofer, who chairs the commission, said, according to the paper. He referenced comments from Los Angeles’ police chief, who said earlier this year that reports of sexual assault and domestic violence by Latino residents had decreased drastically due to deportation fears. “We see this as a public safety threat. It’s causing confusion and trauma in the community.”
The Chronicle also points out that: “The two halves of ICE — immigration enforcement and criminal investigations — can sometimes cross paths, as they did in Santa Cruz earlier this year, when federal agents working with county sheriff’s deputies conducted a sting against suspected members of the notorious MS-13 gang. Swept up in the arrests were people whose only offense was being in the country without legal permission.”
Beyond declaring Sanctuary City status, local governments around the country are wrestling with the specifics of how to cooperate — and how to refuse cooperation — with ICE. In January, Miami became the first major U.S. city to say it would change its practices regarding undocumented immigrants following President Donald Trump’s executive order cracking down on “sanctuary cities,” as Kelsey E. Thomas reported for Next City at the time. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered county jails to comply with federal requests to detain immigrants, saying the region would otherwise lose millions in federal funding.
In the region surrounding Austin, Texas, meanwhile, County Sheriff Patricia Hernandez announced in March that she would cooperate less with ICE than her predecessor, and would only hold detainees if the federal agency had a proper warrant or the person had been charged with a violent crime. After she made that announcement, Governor Greg Abbott slashed $1.5 million in state funding to domestic violence victims, veterans’ courts and drug courts.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.