In the last month and a half since the start of the new administration, there seem to have been multiple weekly rumors of local ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids in Davis, Woodland and Sacramento, where ICE is seen as potentially rounding up numerous individuals – in some cases, the rumors are they are pulling over random people and demanding to see papers.
The Vanguard has learned that local officials have been in contact with their federal counterparts, and these rumors are seen to be false and there is a denial of ICE presence – at least the Immigration wing of ICE – in the area.
However, recent reports have emerged that at least should give us some pause on these assertions by ICE. What we have learned in the last week is troubling – law enforcement officials in Santa Cruz have accused federal agents of using a gang investigation as cover for an immigration raid.
“I want to underscore that we would never have participated or cooperated in this operation if we had known that it included immigration enforcement,” Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel said at a news conference last week.
“As a result of this betrayal of trust, we will be taking a long and hard look about whether we will cooperate with this federal agency in the future,” he said. “We can’t cooperate with a law enforcement agency we cannot trust.”
Reportedly, the raids that occurred on February 13 were launched against the local wing of the MS-13 gang.
The chief said, “I want to very clear today, that the only reason members of the Santa Cruz police participated in this operation was to arrest violent gang members.”
He had assurances from DHS (Department of Homeland Security) that the raid did not have an “immigration component.”
But that is not what happened. Police would learn that DHS officials “had acted outside of the scope of this operation and had detained and removed a number of individuals from various locations based upon their immigration status.”
In a statement from the ACLU on Monday, they said, “The lessons of the raid scandal are clear. First, the public must always question the Trump administration’s ‘official story,’ which all too often ultimately relies on scapegoating and misinformation to further an extreme political agenda.
“Second, DHS and ICE have surpassed any remaining bounds of decency, undermining community trust in any institution entangled with them. The agencies executing mass deportations and profiling are simply not appropriate partners for any local government in California,” the ACLU said.
They added that “we must all question narratives that demonize, criminalize, and scapegoat vulnerable communities. The fact that a person who happens to be an immigrant has a record, even a ‘serious’ one, does not mean that person ceases to be a human being. In the nation that incarcerates more people than any other on earth through a justice system wrought with racial and class disparities, we must seek to uphold, not trample, our common humanity. We must seek solutions that advance our values of rehabilitation and transformation.”
A DHS spokesman denied that the police had been duped.
“Allegations that the agency secretly planned an immigration enforcement action in hopes there would be new political leadership that would allow for an alleged ‘secret’ operation to take place are completely false, reckless and disturbing,” James Schwab said in a statement.
But his denial seems to respond to the wrong allegation. The claim is probably not that the gang operation was always imbedded with immigration violations, but rather that it morphed into an opportunity to become an immigration lead.
Nor is Santa Cruz the only city with problems of this sort.
Los Angeles officials in a letter to ICE have demanded that immigration agents stop calling referring to themselves as “police.” The officials believe this undermines years of work building trust with the immigrant community. The letter was signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the City Council president.
An ICE spokeswoman said in response to the letter that immigration agents can “initially identify themselves as ‘police,’” although they also wear badges saying “ICE,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
These problems may be the tip of the iceberg. Last week, the Trump administration announced the need to hire 5,000 more Border Patrol agents and 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to enforce his executive orders on immigration.
In an agency already on the shortfall of trained officers, down 1600 agents from what they are currently authorized for, getting another 15,000 qualified officers is a daunting task. To get those kind of hires would require low standards, something Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told NPR he won’t do – “we will not lower standards and we will not lower training.”
NPR notes, “The number of CBP [Customs and Border Protection] agents doubled during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, from 10,000 to 21,000. But there were problems. New agents were rushed through training and into the field, some without completed background checks.”
While the internal battle ensues in the president’s administration, the ACLU is urging California leaders to pass the CA Values Act, SB 54, by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.
SB 54 would ensure “that no state or local resources are diverted to fuel any attempt by the federal government to carry out mass deportations and that our schools, our hospitals, and our courthouses are safe spaces for everyone in our community.”
But is that enough?
—David M. Greenwald reporting