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The Tongva Times

The Tongva Times

The Tongva Times

City Council sends ICE packing

    By Ethan Tan

    Staff Writer

    After public outrage and pressure, the San Gabriel City Council voted 3-2 on Feb. 6 to terminate a partnership agreement between the San Gabriel Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

    Councilmembers Chin Ho Liao, Denise Menchaca, and Jason Pu voted for termination of the agreement and Mayor Juli Costanzo and Vice Mayor John Harrington voted to keep the partnership in place.

    The agreement, which designated one police officer to act as a federal customs task force agent, had been proposed in July 2017 but did not become official until December, when a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed.

    Councilmember Pu told the Tongva Times that he was shocked that the agreement had been signed without input from the community or the City Council.

    The core controversy centered on whether or not partnering the police department with ICE was in violation of California State Senate Bill SB 54, more commonly known as the Sanctuary State Bill. SB 54 prohibits any law enforcement agency at the state or local level from cooperating with federal immigration officials.

    Shiu-Ming Cheer, senior attorney at the National Immigrant Law Center, pointed out that, “in cities like Oakland […] police departments who have had taskforce agreements with HSI, have had HSI report criminals [for deportation] without the approval of the local police department, which would be a violation of SB 54. In addition, there is no written distinction of what is criminal and civil immigration law.”

    Current interpretations of the law cite overstaying a visa or being in the U.S. without valid documentation as a civil offense, while entering the U.S. without documentation is considered a criminal offense.

    The MOU contained a clause that prevented the appointed federal customs task force officer from executing federal civil immigration law and immigration warrants, along with other provisions barring collaboration with the
    Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) arm of ICE. However, the officer could still enforce federal criminal immigration law.

    Vice Mayor Harrington said that “these measures were put in place to ensure compliance with SB 54.”

    But the partnership outraged and frightened many community members.

    Advocacy groups held a meeting at the Mission Playhouse on Feb. 2 to discuss the partnership between SGPD and ICE, leaning toward the opinion that having the police work with HSI is a “slippery slope” that could lead to unintentional cooperation with ERO through information sharing. Groups in attendance included Asian Americans
    Advancing Justice, California Immigrant Policy Center, Immigrant Youth Coalition of the San Gabriel Valley, the National Immigrant Law Center, and ICE out of LA.

    Residents held banners and chanted both before and during the meeting. Violence broke out between pro-ICE and anti-ICE supporters and several people had to be removed from the Playhouse.

    Prior to the Feb. 6 City Council meeting, the same advocacy groups held a joint press conference outside city hall, during which immigrants spoke about how they feel unsafe living in an area with ICE agents working in the police department and organizers demanded that the council terminate the partnership with HSI.

    California State Senate candidate, Mike Eng, also spoke at the conference. He stated that terminating the partnership would send a message to ICE to stop trying to pressure cities into signing agreements with them that could harm the local immigrant community.

    Over 120 people gave public comment to the council. Approximately 60% of the people who spoke were San Gabriel residents. After the vote, Councilmember Pu asked the city staff to develop a sanctuary city ordinance to prevent another incident like this. Pu also stated that his reasoning behind the ordinance is to send a message that “we welcome our immigrant communities in the wake of the ICE MOU.”

    ICE has been under fire in the news recently for targeting undocumented immigrants in raids and subsequently deporting them. However, it is important to note that ERO is tasked with raids and deportations as it focuses on immigration law, while HSI focuses on criminal investigations and has no jurisdiction over immigration matters.

    Last week, ERO carried out enforcement inspections at such local San Gabriel businesses as Mission Car Wash and Tia Gladys restaurant. Officers audited workers’ employment documents as well as their immigration status. Inspections were also carried out in 122 other workplaces across Southern California.

    There is no word yet if anyone was detained or arrested during the inspections in the city of San Gabriel or if these inspections were a result of the city’s termination of the partnership with HSI.

    Both Vice Mayor Harrington and Attorney Cheer say that even though HSI is not working with the police department anymore, ICE and ERO still have the right to come into San Gabriel and deport undocumented immigrants.

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    City Council sends ICE packing