The Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday held a public hearing on how the LAPD does – and does not – work with federal immigration authorities. The hearing was held amid growing fears that the LAPD might be helping to deport people under President Trump’s plan to aggressively enforce immigration laws.
Despite assurances that a nearly 40-year-old LAPD directive -- Special Order 40 -- prohibits officers from helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, advocates say the LAPD needs to do more to assure immigrants it is not working with federal authorities. They point to five areas of concern:
1. Joint operations with ICE
The department works with ICE on several multi-agency task forces aimed at combatting human trafficking, transnational gangs, Internet crimes against children and other activities. Advocates argue ICE sweeps up people who are not criminals during task force raids - and that LAPD officers end up helping them.
“Individuals who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time end up in deportation proceedings or end up deported,” said attorney Emi MacLean of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network. She also argued the department should be more transparent in documenting when it detains people in this fashion.
Chief Charlie Beck argued the task forces are a valuable collaboration that target serious criminals. He said officers who work on them are specifically told not to help detain people who are merely in the country illegally, even though it might occasionally happen. "When it happens, the Los Angeles Police Department takes it very seriously,” Beck said.
2. Information sharing with ICE
“Immigrants are caught in a complex and opague web of databases, related systems, and information sharing mechanisms that facilitate deportations," said attorney Shiu-Ming Cheer of the National Immigration Law Center. She and others worry about the names the LAPD places in a statewide gang database, for example. ICE places a high priority on the deportation of gang members - yet a state audit found the database includes the names of hundreds of people who are not gang members.
3. Arrests and citations for low level crimes
In a memo from U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, immigration agents were told to prioritize a broad swath of people living in the U.S. illegally, including people who have been charged but not yet convicted of a crime and even "committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense" regardless of the severity of the potential crime.
That has advocates worried ICE will use LAPD citations as a pretense for deportation.
"Nobody should be at risk of deportation because they are found sleeping in their car, spray painting their name on a wall or engaged in some sort of childish prank," said Michael Kaufman, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. He noted the LA City Council already has recognized the danger, moving to decriminalizing street vending without a permit.
4. California as a "sanctuary state"
Senate Bill 54 would prohibit local police and sheriff's departments from using resources to investigate, report or detain people who are merely living in the country illegally. Advocates argue the support of Beck and the commission would go a long way to assuaging the fears of immigrants about any LAPD involvement in a federal immigration crackdown.
But Beck and the commission said a 2014 directive from Mayor Eric Garretti prohibits them from taking a stand on state legislation. Garretti said in the directive he wants the city to speak with "one voice." The mayor supports SB54.
(Beck indicated he has reservations about the bill - and is working with its author Senator Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles on amendments. Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who is independently elected, has incurred the wrath of immigrant advocates for opposing the bill - even after one amendment that allows sheriffs who operate jails to report the release of serious and violent felons to ICE and another that allows the participation in joint task forces. McDonnell, whose deputies do not detain people for immigration violations, nonetheless argues there should be few restrictions on local police who work with ICE to catch serious criminals.)
5. "Bias Free Policing"
This would supplement Special Order 40, say advocates, and ensure the LAPD policy clearly prohibits unnecessary cooperation with ICE. Here's an excerpt of their proposed policy:
"The Department is committed to equal enforcement of the law and equal service to the public regardless of race, nationality, ethnicity, or immigration status[...] The Department shall not undertake joint efforts with federal, state or local law enforcement agencies, to investigate, detain or arrest individuals for violations of federal immigration law."
But perhaps the most controversial part of the proposal is this: "The Department shall not permit any collateral arrests for immigration enforcement purposes in connection with Department operations."
Its unclear whether advocates would want the LAPD to intervene when ICE agents are in the process of detaining someone during a joint operation. And its unclear if Chief Beck had read that part of the proposal when he said this at Tuesday's meeting:
“A quick read of it shows there’s a lot of value in it,” Beck said.