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LA officials oppose ICE plan to add officers in sanctuary cities

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By Brittny Mejia, Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Leila Miller
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Law enforcement officials are pushing back against a new federal immigration push to add more resources in sanctuary cities as the Trump administration continues to target those migrants who have entered the U.S. without legal documents.

The relationship between ICE and many local law enforcement agencies has long been fraught. Since Trump took office, it has grown only more tenuous as police grapple with maintaining communication with ICE while also balancing transparency with community and civic leaders.

Those tensions are especially evident in California, where local law enforcement must abide by a “sanctuary” law, Senate Bill 54, which went into effect last year to provide protection for immigrants in the country illegally. In L.A., the police department stopped engaging in joint operations with ICE that directly involve civil immigration enforcement and no longer transfers people with certain minor criminal convictions to ICE custody.

In the latest flashpoint, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman plans to deploy 50 Border Patrol agents and 50 field operations customs officers in nine areas, according to the agency. Specially trained officers will be sent to cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

Additional agents are expected to be sent to San Francisco, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit, Newark, N.J., and other cities, according to the agency. The deployment of the teams will run from February through May.

Q: What has been the reaction in Los Angeles?

A: Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD chief Michel Moore released a video Friday saying local police won’t be working with ICE.

“Regardless of your immigration status, I want every Angeleno to know your city is on your side. Here in Los Angeles, our police department does not coordinate with ICE or participate in immigration enforcement,” Garcetti said on Twitter.

“Immigration is a federal matter. Safety is a police matter. And we’re not going to mix those two,” Moore added.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva also released a statement Friday saying, “I strongly oppose this irresponsible deployment of federal SWAT agents in Los Angeles County for civil immigration enforcement.

“This poorly thought-out plan can only be seen as a tactic to intimidate an already vulnerable population and drive them deeper into the shadows,” the statement said. “We are not any safer if an entire segment of our population is afraid to report crimes to local law enforcement.”

Q: What are federal immigration officials saying?

A. Customs and Border Patrol agents and officers being detailed to help ICE will come from different sectors and job positions, including some trained in tactical operations, according to the agency.

“ICE is utilizing CBP to supplement enforcement activity in response to the resource challenges stemming from sanctuary-city policies,” ICE Director Matthew Albence said in a statement.

Albence said in the statement that the action was being taken in response to sanctuary-city law enforcement agencies not cooperating with federal authorities by turning over immigrants being held in local jails. As a result, the statement continued, federal officers “are forced to make at-large arrests of criminal aliens who have been released into communities.”

“This effort requires a significant amount of additional time and resources,” Albence said. “When sanctuary cities release these criminals back to the street, it increases the occurrence of preventable crimes, and more importantly, preventable victims.”

The number of non-detained cases increased from 2.6 million in fiscal year 2018 to over 3.2 million in the following fiscal year, according to DHS.

“With 5,300 ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations) law enforcement officers — some of whom were detailed to the border — ICE does not have sufficient resources to effectively manage the sustained increase in non-detained cases which is exacerbated by the rise of sanctuary jurisdictions,” the agency said in a statement.

Q: What about immigrant rights groups?

A: “This is transparent retaliation against local governments for refusing to do the administration’s bidding,” said Naureen Shah, senior policy and advocacy counsel on immigrants’ rights for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “It will put lives at risk by further militarizing our streets. Local governments should not face reprisals for focusing on local community needs and using taxpayer money responsibly, instead of helping to deport and detain community members.”

Advocates said that rapid response networks, which provide hotlines for immigrants facing arrest by immigration officers and dispatch trained legal observers to raids, will be on high alert over the weekend.

Hamid Yazdan Panah, advocacy director of Immigrant Defense Advocates in the Bay Area, said the operation is part of a repeated pattern by the Trump administration of using fear for political gain: “Sanctuary policies are a reflection of the shared values and the fabric of that community. This escalation isn’t going to stop that.”