According to a San Diego Union-Tribune news report earlier today, Escondido has become the first city in Southern California to integrate the help of immigration agents in local police activities. Escondido is located in Northern San Diego County.
The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers now work out of the Escondido Police Department offices and accompany police officers on certain calls. It is not clear which types of matters the ICE officers are tracking.
The Escondido Chief of Police, Jim Maher, said the ICE agents work on cases involving “criminal illegal immigrants.”
Having represented immigrants as a San Diego immigration lawyer for nearly two decades, I find the Chief’s phrase puzzling and vague.
It could mean ICE officers will only handle matters where the immigrants have already been convicted of crimes. Or it could mean they will be part of investigations where immigrants are suspected of committing a crime.
It could also mean that anytime a person is suspected of lacking immigration documents, ICE takes on a more active role in the immigrant’s detention.
Unclear guidelines often lead to unnecessary legal battles.
Escondido’s History On Immigration Issues
This news seems to conflict with actions taken by the Escondido City Council in May. Unlike the City Councils of Hemet and Lake Elsinore, cities in nearby Riverside County, the Escondido City Council decided to keep quiet on Arizona’s new immigration law, SB 1070.
In its decision not to endorse the Arizona law, the City Council appeared to have based its decision on wanting to avoid the controversy associated with SB 1070.
The Arizona law requires police officers to question people about their immigration status if, during a stop or detention, they suspect they are in the country illegally. Opponents fear the law’s potential for racial profiling and discrimination.
Despite not supporting the Arizona measure, the City of Escondido has a strained relationship with its immigrant communities.
Just a few years ago, the Escondido City Council passed a local ordinance not allowing homeowners to rent apartments to undocumented immigrants. After learning the ordinance was likely to be declared unconstitutional by the courts, the City dropped its apartment restriction program.
Impact On Immigrant Communities In Escondido
A major concern regarding the Escondido Police – ICE venture is that it will make their law enforcement jobs harder, not easier.
In Arizona, for instance, the majority of the police chiefs and sheriffs have stressed by creating fear, especially among immigrants who have expired documents, who are awaiting green card interviews, or who lack any immigration papers, many residents will be less likely to ask for help or to report a crime.
In their view, the risk is not worth the perceived benefit. This is one of the main reasons why the majority of police chiefs and sheriffs in Arizona oppose SB 1070.
As an immigration attorney in Escondido, I doubt that teaming up with ICE in their patrols is going to improve the Escondido Police Department’s image among many local immigrant residents.
In addition to the aborted apartment rental ordinance, immigrant distrust of Escondido’s political and law enforcement leadership goes back to various incidents during the past few decades.
Such history is not easy to overcome.
The latest partnership is unlikely to improve matters.
Many Unanswered Questions: Who Is In Charge?
The program appears to have been hatched in the dark. Several key individuals in the two organizations, when questioned by reporters, spoke about their lack of knowledge.
The mayor, Lori Holt Pfeiler, said she did not know about it for the first six weeks. The president of the Escondido Police Officers Association, Tony Masten, said he did not know any details about the program.
Even Lauren Mack, ICE public relations officer, intially told reporters she did not know anything about the program. She later refused to return any telephone calls to reporters after the program’s existence was confirmed.
These are not good signs for the program’s success.
And, who is in charge?
How can a new immigration policy be successful without clear leadership and clear guidelines?
Moreover, when it comes to matters of deportation defense, I am concerned that flawed detentions will occur under the new alliance, especially when its leadership and boundaries are unknown.
For now, I’ll keep an eye out to figure out if it the partnership is increasing detentions, especially unwarranted detentions, of immigrants living in Escondido.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics