Oakland, Calif., Cuts Ties With Federal Immigration Agents
By Kimberly Veklerov
The Oakland Police Department can no longer designate its investigators as U.S. customs enforcement officers -- a classification that allows local police agencies to work with federal immigration officials on cases of human trafficking, narcotics smuggling and other cross-border crimes.
Citing concerns over data sharing and heightened fear of deportations, the Oakland City Council on Tuesday unanimously rescinded an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement signed last summer by former Police Chief Sean Whent, hours before he resigned amid questions over his handling of a sexual misconduct scandal.
But whether the memorandum of understanding with the criminal investigations arm of ICE was ever actually put to use in Oakland -- and the consequences of revoking it -- remains in dispute, even within the Police Department.
A report issued by Chief Anne Kirkpatrick in May showed that the only recent involvement her department had with an ICE operation was in October, when two officers were asked to provide cover while federal agents served a search warrant. But last week, Deputy Chief Danielle Outlaw told a city public safety committee that active investigations into sex and labor trafficking would be jeopardized by rescinding the agreement with Homeland Security Investigations.
The work with Homeland Security "allows us to have that federal arm and to have that transnational piece that we just as a local municipal agency do not have access to," Outlaw said as she advocated for keeping the arrangement.
A police spokesman said Outlaw wasn't available to answer questions Tuesday, and other interview requests made to police and city officials were not returned.
Oakland's Privacy Advisory Commission, which pushed for the agreement to be rescinded on the basis that police data could be shared with federal agencies, asked the Police Department for a list of officers who participated in the ICE program and was told no one had actually done it yet, according to Brian Hofer, who chairs the commission.
San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo counties have similar versions of the agreement, which lets local law enforcement investigators be "deputized" as Homeland Security Investigations "task force officers." The arrangement is limited to solving crimes and doesn't cover cases of immigration law.
"Even though it might not be immigration-enforcement-related, it's still this guilt-by-association chilling effect we're seeing," Hofer said, referencing comments from the Los Angeles police chief, who said in March that reports of sexual assault and domestic violence by Latino residents had sharply decreased amid fears of deportation. "We see this as a public safety threat. It's causing confusion and trauma in the community."
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.
Also Tuesday, the Oakland City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that increases oversight and public engagement in surveillance-related agreements between the city and federal agencies.
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