IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES and LAW ENFORCEMENT
I have dedicated my career to helping people realize the American Dream.
Often, that has meant protecting undocumented immigrants, who have fled to the U.S. from places like Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, to escape horrible gang violence and destitute economic conditions.
I see these fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters, as asylum seekers, with an earnest desire to start new lives and become contributing members of our diverse society.
In response to the current administration’s escalating pursuit of undocumented immigrants, engaging with my legal brethren, and local law enforcement officials, in matters of immigration law, and immigrant rights has become even more important to me.
That is what motivated me to join the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Westside Chapter.
Through meetings like the one I attended this past April, with the Chief Jacqueline A. Seabrooks of the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD), my ACLU colleagues, and I are able to voice concerns about unrestrained and unwarranted participation by local law enforcement, with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
We believe immigrant communities need to be encouraged to work with police without fear of deportation, so authorities have the help they need to identify and arrest dangerous criminals, who might otherwise go undetected.
DEFINING SANCTUARY CITIES
Balancing public safety, while also protecting immigrants; Preventing police from stopping someone for the sole purpose of inquiring into their immigration status; Refusing to put a hold on someone in jail for a low-level offense, beyond their scheduled release date.
Communities that seek to adopt the preceding policies, and limit their cooperation with federal immigration through executive orders, or non-binding resolutions between city councils and local police departments, or laws, are known as Sanctuary Cities.
According to a recent New York Times article, there are at least 364 counties, and 39 cities, in the U.S., which identify as Sanctuary Cities.
While the use of “Sanctuary City” as a label has largely been a political device for almost 40 years, the concept dates back to when many American cities established their own policies, separate of the federal statutes, to address the influx of fugitive slaves; the nation’s first refugee population, according to H. Robert Baker, Professor of History at Georgia State University.
Sanctuary Cities are typically progressive, economically vibrant, cosmopolitan centers of great ethnic diversity, with assimilated, and thriving immigrant communities.
In 1989, San Francisco passed a law called the City and County of Refuge Ordinance, which essentially limits city employees from using city resources to assist ICE with enforcement of federal immigration law, unless mandated by federal or state law.
Since 1979, Los Angeles has operated under an immigrant-tolerant policy, which, ironically, was issued by the late and former LAPD Chief, Daryl Gates.
Special Order 40 prohibits police officers from approaching people for the sole purpose of determining their immigration status.
However, Special Order 40 does require police officers to contact ICE about undocumented immigrants, who are arrested for multiple or high-level misdemeanors, and felonies, especially violent offenses.
Special Order 40 and policies like it don’t condone the criminality of someone faking their work eligibility status, but they do demonstrate what the primary focus of local law enforcement agencies in any city should always be: ensuring public safety, and apprehending violent felons.
The LAPD has carried out extensive joint operations with ICE focused on transnational gangs, which have blurred the lines between the two organizations, and called into question the efficacy of Special Order 40.
Unfortunately, there have been multiple occasions where non-criminal immigrants have been turned over to ICE to be placed into deportation proceedings.
According to SMPD Chief Seabrooks, in April, every individual arrested and brought into the SMPD station is automatically fingerprinted, and those fingerprints go to ICE immediately upon booking, per the system established by Homeland Security for the County of Los Angeles.
Chief Seabrooks said that if ICE does not contact SMPD with an order to hold, then SMPD will release, if the initial arrest charges are dropped.
This understanding is part of a written accord between ICE and the SMPD known as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which codifies the expectations that each entity should have of the other, within their working relationship.
Chief Seabrooks said her Policy Development team is currently working on the appropriate language for a new MOU, which will take into account all the community’s concerns about overzealous, extra-judicial task forces. But she stressed she won’t risk the wellbeing and safety of Santa Monica residents.
That said, undocumented immigrants, who are swept into deportation proceedings because of a minor infraction like unpaid traffic tickets, and nothing else, are the people we want to protect, and which Sanctuary Cities are trying to assist.
So, while there are no easy answers, we must persevere to engage both sides of the argument to find the best solutions for all concerned, but especially, the most vulnerable.
To that end, I’ll continue to play an active role in the ACLU, Southern California Westside Chapter, and shall be providing updates about those meetings and interactions as well.
In the meantime, please reach out to me for assistance with your immigration law questions or issues. My team and I have years of experience and a huge number of success stories to demonstrate that we care, and we know how to help.