Furious California police officials have threatened to end cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after they accused federal agents of using a gang investigation as cover to ferret out undocumented immigrants.
“I want to underscore that we would never have participated or cooperated in this operation if we had known that it included immigration enforcement,” said Kevin Vogel, police chief of Santa Cruz, which is one of a number of California sanctuary cities for immigrants.
“As a result of this betrayal of trust, we will be taking a long and hard look about whether we will cooperate with this federal agency in the future. We can’t cooperate with a law enforcement agency we cannot trust,” he said at a news conference earlier this week.
The now-controversial joint raids were launched Feb. 13 against local gang MS-13, which includes members from El Salvador. Police had been investigating the gang for years. Vogel hailed the arrests in raids in Santa Cruz, Daly City and Watsonville of ten individuals suspected of extortion, drug trafficking and murder.
“I want to very clear: The only reason members of the Santa Cruz police participated in this operation was to arrest violent gang members,” said Vogel, who added that officials were “assured” that the operation did not have an added “immigration component to it.”
But police discovered shortly afterward that DHS officials, “unbeknownst to us had acted outside of the scope of this operation and had detained and removed a number of individuals from various locations based upon their immigration status,” who “may or may not have been related” in any way to the criminal investigation, Vogel said. Several people were secretly removed from sites without police on the scene and sent to other counties for processing at DHS sites, said Vogel, ABC-7 TV reported.
“The detention and the removal of these individuals based solely upon their immigration status flies in the face of the City Council resolution declaring Santa Cruz a place of trust and safety for all local immigrants,” Vogel said at the press conference. “The community has an absolute right to be angry about this.”
A DHS spokesman denied the police had been duped. “Allegations that the agency secretly planned an immigration enforcement action in hopes there would be new political leadership that would allow for an alleged ‘secret’ operation to take place are completely false, reckless and disturbing,” spokesman James Schwab said in a statement.
He said that 11 people had been detained over immigration issues alone, but that 10 had already been released. Vogel, however, said last week that the police department had yet to receive any specifics or documentation about the number or identity of people detained. Based on police officials’ own information sources, Santa Cruz officials believe at least 10 people were detained over immigration status alone, and six were released — but with GPS tracking devices assuring they could be located for upcoming court cases, according to Assistant Santa Cruz Police Chief Flippo.
Santa Cruz isn’t the only city this week antagonized by the DHS and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Los Angeles officials have written a letter to ICE demanding that immigration agents stop calling themselves “police.” The practice undermines the police department’s years of work building trust in the city’s large immigrant community, said the letter, signed by Mayor Gil Garcetti, the city attorney and City Council president.
In response to the letter, an ICE spokeswoman said that immigration agents can, “as a standard practice … initially identify themselves as ‘police’” though they also wear badges saying “ICE,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
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