San Gabriel City Council ends agreement between ICE and police department

  • Anthony Ng of Asian Americans Advancing Justice leads a protest against an agreement between ICE and the San Gabriel Police Department. All photos by Phoenix Tso.

  • A resident shows her support of the partnership between ICE and the San Gabriel Police Department to investigate human trafficking, fraud and similar large-scale crimes.

Location

San Gabriel , CA United States

The San Gabriel City Council rescinded an agreement between its police department and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, predicting that it would open the door to ICE targeting immigrants for deportation.

In a close decision, the Council decided 3-2 to terminate the agreement, with some council members criticizing the fact that the agreement was made without their input, and that it sowed fear within San Gabriel’s large immigrant community.

“The bottom line is that we just can’t trust ICE under this Trump administration,” said Councilmember Jason Pu to clapping from the audience. “If it looks like we invited ICE into our communities, it could do irreparable harm to our image and reputation as a place that actually more than embraces and welcomes immigrants, but actually thrives on diversity and our immigrant communities.”

San Gabriel Police Chief Eugene Harris said that the partnership did not involve immigration enforcement, but that it allowed his department to investigate crimes that often target immigrants.

“We do not enforce immigration law,” Harris said.

Since the Trump administration ramped up immigration enforcement in the past year, many California cities have limited their cooperation with ICE. The City of Oakland, Calif. opted to terminate its own agreement with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in July 2017. Last October, California passed a sanctuary state law limiting state and local police cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

San Gabriel’s agreement allowed the police to work with Homeland Security Investigations on solving complex crimes like human-trafficking and large-scale fraud that they found difficult to tackle alone. Harris reported that the task force resulting from the agreement had made 23 arrests since its inception in July, with one operation including the recovery of 30 Chinese passports that are believed to belong to young women forced into prostitution.

Because ICE agreed to reimburse overtime expenses for San Gabriel police officers who joined this task force, and because the agreement governed the department’s so-called day-to-day operations, there wasn’t a requirement for Harris to get City Council approval before entering into it. Harris also said that he had consulted with the previous city manager on this.

San Gabriel, like many cities in the San Gabriel Valley, is mainly made up of immigrants. Asians make up 60 percent of its population and Latinos make up 25 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Census figures.

Around 40 opponents of this agreement protested in front of San Gabriel City Hall before the City Council meeting. Advocates from organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the Council of American-Islamic Relations showed up to speak in support of rescinding the ICE agreement. So many people attended this hearing that the City Council meeting had to move across the street to the larger San Gabriel Mission Playhouse.

More than 100 people spoke at the City Council meeting in an emotionally charged discussion, with many residents expressing support for Harris and the agreement. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that this is about the safety of the people,” said Chuck Myers. San Gabriel Mayor Juli Costanzo and Vice Mayor John Harrington also made a similar argument that the agreement would not result in targeting immigrants but keep San Gabriel safe.

“If we undermine the efforts of our City Manager and department heads, what good are we, especially when the law has a political twist?” asked Constanzo.

Others spoke out against undocumented immigrants in general, criticizing them for breaking the law. “Without the laws, we have a lot of chaos,” said Helen Chan, who said she immigrated legally to the United States at 5 years old. “That’s the way we have to do it.”

Among those speaking in opposition were some people who identified themselves as undocumented, and who warned of immigration agents overstepping partnerships with local law enforcement to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. “They do whatever they need to do to break into our homes, to separate our families, to separate our kids from our aunties and uncles,” said Luis Valentin.

Vivian Matsushige spoke through tears about how this agreement reminded her of the U.S. government placing her family in a Japanese internment camp, where she was born. “I believe that [Chief Harris] was trying to do the right thing, but I don’t think he realizes what the implications are,” she said.

After the vote, Pu requested that City staff place a sanctuary city ordinance on a future agenda.

Updated Feb. 25, 2018 at 10:03 p.m.