Amid the tense climate surrounding U.S. immigration policy, city council terminates agreement between San Gabriel Police Department and federal immigration agencies
After a raucous protest against the controversial agreement between the San Gabriel Police Department (SGPD) and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the San Gabriel City Council voted late Tuesday, February 6 to terminate the agreement.
After hearing from more than 100 emotional pleas during the public comments on this issue, the council voted 3-2, ending the agreement.
“Beyond its specific terms, having this agreement paints San Gabriel as a place that’s unsafe for and unwelcoming to immigrants. That’s sad because that could not be farther from the truth,” remarked Councilmember Jason Pu, who had officially made the motion to end the agreement.
Pu, who is Asian American, proposed a sanctuary city ordinance that would prohibit city officials from partnering up with federal immigration agents in the future.
Mayor Juli Costanzo and Councilmember John Harrington were the two who voted to keep the agreement in place.
“This sends the message that politics are more important than residents’ safety,” Harrington said.
Without the knowledge of the public or the San Gabriel City Council, the SGPD on July 22, 2017, entered into a collaboration with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), an investigative team under the umbrella of ICE.
Initially reported by Pasadena Weekly in early January, the partnership was to establish a member of the SGPD as a federal customs officer who would have investigated federal fraud-related crimes including human trafficking and counterfeiting as well as gang-related crimes.
Shortly after, Pu and Councilmember Denise Menchaca brought the police department’s agreement with ICE to the city council agenda for discussion.
At the council meeting, Harris emphasized that the memo does not grant officers with the “authority to enforce administrative violations of immigration law.”
Chief of Police Eugene Harris signed off on the agreement on Dec. 7, 2017, without the knowledge of the city council or the public. Harris said that the main motivation behind the agreement was to protect all residents “regardless of [citizenship] status.”
However, California’s new sanctuary state designation (SB 54 which went into effect at the beginning of the year) primarily prohibits funding toward criminal and civil immigration enforcement by local and state law enforcement.
Although Harris adamantly pressed that the partnership was strictly meant for criminal activity and wouldn’t have included collateral arrests — arrests of undocumented immigrants who were not targets of a criminal investigation.
But in the past, federal immigration agents were able to find loopholes that led to the arrests of undocumented immigrants who were originally not the targets.
Last year, a criminal investigation targeting gang activity in Santa Cruz, California also brought about the arrests of non-gang members for immigration violations by federal immigration agents.
The Santa Cruz Police Chief, Kevin Vogel, said that he was unaware of the collateral arrests.
“They [federal agents] misled my department as to the actual scope of the operation. I feel like I was lied to,” he said after the operation.
Santa Cruz didn’t formally sign an agreement with ICE, but Vogel directed other police departments to make explicitly clear their terms of collaboration with ICE or any other federal agency.
In Oakland, city officials rescinded their agreement with ICE after it was found that two Oakland police officers stopped traffic during a raid which brought about two arrests, one of which was placed in deportation proceedings. The original operation was to target a human trafficking ring.
How residents reacted to the partnership
According to U.S. Census, Asians comprise the largest racial group in San Gabriel (61 percent) while Latinos and Hispanics comprise of the second largest (26 percent).
The timing of the memo was especially troubling considering the current national climate regarding all things immigration. The news of the agreement prompted intense backlash from residents of San Gabriel and the surrounding cities.
Before the city council meeting on Tuesday, a coalition of immigrant rights organizations —
including Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, LA Voice, and Immigrant Youth Coalition — organized a rally protesting the memo.
About 300 people showed up to the council meeting with more than a hundred attendees coming up to share their concerns with the agreement. Many expressed that ICE’s presence in San Gabriel — a historically immigrant-rich city — would instill fear in the community.
“We are here in opposition to this [partnership] for the mere fact that any collaboration with ICE makes our communities unsafe,” Anthony Ng, policy advocate for immigrant rights at Advancing Justice – LA, said at the meeting, adding that any collaboration with ICE “opens up the doors for terrorizing our communities.”
“At a time when immigrants are being attacked on all fronts, whether it’s on health care or immigration, we need to make sure we’re passing policies that are sensible and responsive to the people in our communities and this partnership does not do that,” Ng added.
Those that opposed the memo argued that the lack of transparency among the police department and the city council and the public was an “irresponsible” decision and that there should have been a forum prior to the signing.
“Transparency after the fact isn’t transparency,” Joseph Li, a Filipino-American San Gabriel resident, told the Asian Journal. “Given the current situation regarding immigration in this country, it’s incredibly upsetting to me that [the police department] didn’t seem to think that there would be pushback. It’s impossible to me that they’re oblivious to the tension surrounding immigration and the immigrant communities, especially in a city like San Gabriel.”
Although there was resounding opposition to the agreement, several San Gabriel residents also voiced their support of the memo, citing the SGPD-ICE partnership a necessary call for public safety.
Alan Guzman-Red has lived in San Gabriel for 35 years and is the son of a Honduran immigrant. Although he “fully” supports immigrant rights, he told the Asian Journal before the council meeting that he does not support any illegal activity from anyone and supports any measure to mitigate crime in his city.
“Look, I support immigrant rights, as a second-generation Honduran-American,” Guzman-Red emphasized. “What I don’t support are people defending criminals, because that’s what this memo is about anyways. It’s about criminals and reducing crime to keep our community safe.”
When asked about whether or not the presence of ICE in his city would spark fear among immigrants, he said, “People need to read the fine print of any legislation before reacting.” (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)