A few months ago, the Escondido Police Department and the U.S. Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) entered into a secretive agreement. Under this partnership, two ICE agents work out of the Escondido Police Department office and regularly travel on patrol with Escondido officers.
As I wrote in Escondido Police Teams With ICE: How Will It Affect Immigrant Detentions?, the partnership was hatched in the dark. Or more precisely, those who should have know about the program origins and goals claimed ignorance.
- Escondido Mayor Lori Hol Pfeiler stated she did not know about the partnership for the first six weeks of its existence.
- Escondido Police Office Association President said he did not know any details about the program.
- Lauren Mack, ICE spokesperson, told reporters she did not know anything about the program.
No explanations were forthcoming. Not then. Not now.
The Partnership Expands, But The Public Remains In The Dark
Four months after the partnership’s secret launch, the program is being extended for another five months.
According to Mack, this extension is because the partnership’s work has been fruitful. The partnership has been responsible for 146 arrests. No reports have been issued about the arrested immigrants.
At the outset, it was anticipated the target of the joint ventures would be immigrants with extensive criminal histories or previously deported. Yet, according to the North County Times, court records shows some individuals arrested have been low-level offenders accused of misdemeanors, whereas others have never previously arrested or deported.
Despite questioning from the news media and community organizations, neither ICE nor the Escondido Police Department has clarified the purpose of the partnership.
As an Escondido immigration lawyer, it seems not only inappropriate, but also suspicious when government officials do not subscribe to common notions of public accountability.
A Sign Of Internal ICE Conflicts?
In many ways, the ICE partnership with Escondido appears to contradict other federal government law enforcement measures.
First, under the ICE ACCESS (Agreements of Cooperation in Communities To Enhance Safety and Security) program, ICE trains local officers to enforce immigration law. This is usually called the 287(g) program. The program is authorized under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
For 2010, $68 million were allocated to promote and improve 287(g) programs at the local level.
The Escondido Police Department has not wanted to take part in the 287(g) program. Rather, it has pushed its own unique law enforcement partnership with no apparent goals, objectives, limitations, or boundaries.
Second, ICE Director John Morton issued a policy memorandum just two weeks ago. In his memo, Morton announced a shift in the prosecution of certain immigrants detained by ICE. The new policy applies to undocumented immigrants who may qualify for pending immigration benefits and who have not committed any serious criminal offenses.
Given the arrest of immigrants who fit into this category, as a deportation defense attorney, I question if the Escondido Police – ICE partnership is a deliberate effort to undermine federal immigration goals.
And a few months ago, it was leaked that some federal law enforcement officers were unhappy with the “compassionate” reform direction preferred by Morton and Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security.
In light of these conflicting signals, I wonder if there is an internal civil war taking place within the ICE chain of command.
Escondido: With A History Of Unfriendliness, Secrecy Is A Bad Omen
Of course, Escondido is not a newcomer to immigration controversy.
In 2006, the Escondido City Council tried to implement a ban on renting to immigrants. Legal challenges by local landlords, immigrants, and civil rights groups ensued. Based on constitutional defects, the ban was eliminated.
Lately, in addition to the ICE-Police Department partnership, the number of drunk driving and driver license checkpoints have increased in the Escondido region. At some of these checkpoints, immigration officers are present. In the view of immigrant community groups, this reflects an unspoken goal of targeting undocumented immigrants through the absence of valid driver licenses.
With this type of negative history, it would seem the Escondido Chief of Police and ICE spokesperson would be more open about the partnership with the media and public. The secrecy surrounding the current program only serves to create greater doubts about the program’s true purposes.
Will The ICE-Escondido Pilot Program Expand To Other Areas?
Last week, I was asked by KPBS Reporter Ruxandra Guidi if I thought the partnership might be replicated elsewhere.
Even though no statements have been made regarding the partnership’s guidelines, I find recent ICE references to the Escondido venture as a “pilot program” quite instructive.
Moreover, Escondido is part of the I-15 corridor. Just a few miles down the road starts Southwest Riverside, perhaps the strongest bastion for anti-immigration sentiments in Southern California.
Without a federal government willing or able to assert control over immigration reform, I suspect secretive measures like the ICE-Escondido Police Department partnership might soon become more commonplace.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics