OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — The Oakland City Council approved a resolution Tuesday cutting ties between city police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying cooperation between the agencies is eroding trust in the city’s officers and harming public safety.
“I think this is a good start,” Councilman Abel Guillén said just before the unanimous vote. “While the work is beginning here, I want to be clear that the work has not ended.”
The resolution terminates an agreement the city signed with ICE last year allowing the Oakland Police Department to participate on ICE-task forces to combat customs-related crimes such as drug smuggling and human trafficking.
Although the agreement doesn’t pertain to immigration enforcement, critics contend that any type of cooperation between ICE and local police, coupled with the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, is discouraging undocumented immigrants from contacting police when they are victims or witnesses of crime because they fear deportation.
President Trump’s announcement this year that he intended to step up deportations, news reports of ICE agents arresting undocumented immigrants at schools and courthouses, and revelations in February that ICE agents in Los Angeles had been identifying themselves as police officers while knocking on doors looking for people are just some of the reasons why immigrants have stopped coming forward, hindering local officers’ ability to investigate crimes, critics say.
According to a June 5 letter to the Public Safety Committee from Brian Hofer, chairman of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission, the Houston Police Department has reported a 43 percent drop in the number of Latinos reporting rape and sexual assault compared to last year, and a 12 percent drop in reports of aggravated assault and robberies. And Los Angeles Police Department has reported that sexual assault reports from Latinos have dropped by 25 percent compared to last year.
“If the goal is simply to have ICE be present and to instill fear in noncitizens, then it makes sense to have ICE continually present in local law enforcement agencies,” Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, said in an email.
“If the goal is public safety and community wellbeing, then ICE’s presence and local agreements to maintain that presence do not make sense.”
The resolution to scrap the ICE agreement, sponsored by Councilwoman-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan, came before the city council after the privacy commission found that the agreement had not improved public safety.
According to Hofer’s letter, no Oakland officers have been assigned to a task force since the agreement took effect, and ICE has made no reimbursements to the city under an overtime pay agreement, indicating lack of need and participation. Moreover, a previous partnership between the police department and ICE did not improve public safety between 2013 and 2015, Hofer said.
“Stated simply, this is an agreement that provides no benefit to Oakland,” Hofer wrote.
ICE spokesman James Schwab in the San Francisco field office did not return a request for comment on the city council vote.
In a bid to save the partnership, however, Oakland Deputy Police Chief Danielle Outlaw told members of the public safety committee at a meeting last week that ICE’s Homeland Security division had helped police solve a case in 2015 in which an Oakland gang member was arrested and a large cache of assault weapons and drugs was seized. She added that ICE is helping the department investigate labor and sex trafficking cases with international ties.
“So our work with HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] allows us to have that federal arm and to have that transnational piece that as a local municipal agency we do not have access to,” Outlaw said.
A police spokeswoman said Outlaw was not available to comment on the agreement Tuesday.
Bill Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, said in a phone interview that halting cooperation between Oakland police and ICE won’t hinder the police department from investigating customs-related crime.
“ICE and other federal agencies, when they have information like that in the local jurisdiction, they’ll still pass that on to the local police,” said Hing, who is also a member of San Francisco’s Police Commission.
“Drug smuggling, all those trans-border things, there’s nothing that requires a formal partnership, because agencies always cooperate with each other. San Francisco cooperates with Oakland, Nevada with California, and the federal government, when they have information, will continue to pass it on to local law enforcement.”
Oakland, a sanctuary city since 1986, already bars its police from conducting immigration raids and turning over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities unless criminal activity is involved. The policy is meant to encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes without fear of deportation.
The police department maintains that the agreement to partner with ICE on customs-related crime does not conflict with its mandate to comply with Oakland’s sanctuary city policy.
“In theory, it’s about efficiency and coordination,” Hing said of such agreements. “But the cost is too big. The price of the message sent to the community, it’s too big, because you’re going to turn off the immigrant community. It doesn’t help anyone in terms of crime fighting.”