An agreement between city police and federal immigration officials is raising questions about recent claims by local authorities that Pasadena officers will not help round up and deport undocumented immigrants.
Activists say their concerns stem from a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Pasadena Police Department and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which was signed by Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez on Nov. 15, one week after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
“To the maximum extent possible, the Pasadena Police Department shall assign dedicated officers to any investigation or joint operation,” the MOU states. The MOU further calls on ICE to reimburse the department for any overtime wages incurred during ICE operations.
“The ICE-PPD contract signed by Chief Sanchez makes a mockery of Pasadena’s claim to be immigrant-friendly,” Pasadena resident Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), said in a prepared statement. “Especially at a time of Pasadena’s budget deficit, the city should not be financing federal deportation operations in Pasadena.”
Sanchez told the Pasadena Weekly the document — an extension of a previous MOU agreement between local police and the US Department of Homeland Security which was struck shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 — is common among law enforcement agencies.
There are about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Most of the estimated 3 million undocumented immigrants living in California reside in the Los Angeles area. Last week, officials with ICE, an arm of Homeland Security, arrested 680 people throughout the country, 160 in Los Angeles alone, according to the New York Post. No one was detained in Pasadena, according to Sanchez, who reiterated that his department does not detain people based on their immigration status.
“I understand the fear in many communities, including Pasadena, likely generated by the change in the federal government,” Sanchez said of the incoming Trump administration. During the campaign, President Trump vowed to round up and deport undocumented immigrants and build a 2,000-mile-long wall along the US/Mexico border.
The Pasadena Police Department does not enforce federal immigration laws for the purpose of deporting undocumented persons, Sanchez said.
“My department will continue to enforce state, regional and local laws understanding we are not an extension of federal immigration enforcement,” said the chief.
Sanchez said that since he came to Pasadena seven years ago the department has never arrested or detained anyone based on their immigration status.
In 2015, the department worked with Homeland Security to remove a violent gang member wanted in connection with several shootings. That man was not arrested on an immigration warrant, but on weapons charges.
“If they (ICE) are coming into town, they will notify us, and we will provide an officer for radio enforcement in case it becomes an emergency issue,” Sanchez said.
The MOU was made public after Alvarado filed a state Public Records Act request with the Police Department through the law offices of Dale Gronemeier and Elbie “Skip” Hickambottom asking for records regarding all contacts the Police Department had with ICE in 2016.
In a Feb. 9 response to Gronemeier, Sanchez wrote:
• There are no calls for service connected to ICE or immigration enforcement efforts by the Pasadena Police Department.
• There are no court orders from ICE to detain suspects in the Pasadena Police Department jail.
• There are no requests from the Pasadena Police Department to ICE to conduct immigration enforcement.
• There was no request by ICE for Pasadena Police Department assistance on immigration enforcement.
• The Pasadena Police Department maintains a working relationship with the FBI, DEA and Homeland Security through existing MOU’s for shared resources related to gangs and drug enforcement and immigration enforcement.
• The Pasadena Police Department signed an MOU with ICE in [November] 2016 to extend an already existing relationship which requires a letter of intent to end the contract.
• Any immigration enforcement is solely conducted by the federal agency. Assistance may be needed as necessary for an emergency or to keep the peace.”
Alvarado still was not happy with the timing of the MOU.
“This MOU was signed [seven] days after Trump was elected president,” Alvarado told the Pasadena Weekly. “It appears that there has been no collaboration with ICE, but this is still very scary. I do believe his heart is in the right place,” Alvarado said of Sanchez, “but I don’t trust ICE in any way shape or form.”
Sanctuary cities are those that refuse to enforce immigration laws and instead provide sanctuary for those who have entered the country illegally. Pasadena has not been officially declared a sanctuary city but has announced that it is the job of the federal government to enforce immigration laws, not the city’s.
The Pasadena Unified School District and several local churches have made similar declarations.
Although Trump has loudly declared war on undocumented immigrants, he is not the first president to use ICE for mass deportations.
In President Barack Obama’s two terms in office more than 1.6 million undocumented immigrants, many with felonies on their criminal records, were deported to their country of origin.
Local author and activist Randy Jurado Ertll said Pasadena should pass something similar to Special Order 40, which was designed by the LAPD and approved by the LA City Council in 1979 in an effort to encourage undocumented residents to report crimes without fear of reprisal or intimidation.
Special Order 40, which was initiated by former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, states: “Officers shall not initiate police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person. Officers shall not arrest or book persons for violation of Title 8, Section 1325 of the United States Immigration Code.”
“LA set the example with Special Order 40,” said Ertll, an occasional columnist for the Weekly. “Pasadena has led the way in other issues and can lead in not doing ICE duties.”
About 33 percent of Pasadena’s population — 46,174 residents — are of Latino descent.
“The city’s ongoing contractual relationship with ICE serves to undermine the important relationship between our residents and the members of our law enforcement community,” said City Council candidate Krystal Lopez Padley, who is challenging the city’s only Latino council member, Victor Gordo, in the March 7 election.
“This is especially true in District 5, which is home to a large immigrant community,” Padley said. “Our residents must feel secure in the knowledge that contacting law enforcement in a time of need will not lead to future interactions with federal immigration officials. The current contract with ICE simply does not work for the residents of District 5 or the city of Pasadena.”
District 5 candidate Aida Morales did not return calls for comment on this story.
Gordo said he was pleased that Sanchez explained the document, but said it should have been made public.
“I was deeply disappointed to learn this weekend of the existence of an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Gordo said in a prepared statement issued to the Weekly. “Although our police chief immediately clarified that the agreement is the most recent renewal of a long-standing and narrowly tailored agreement that does not impact our city’s local policy of non-cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, our council and community should have been made aware of this agreement when council raised this critical community discussion last year in November and December.”
Alvarado said he recently visited his friend Mayra Machado in El Salvador. Machado was deported by ICE last month in New Orleans. Twelve years ago, when she was 18, Machado pled guilty to three felony charges involving a forged check: forgery, theft and failure to appear. She was deported after being taken into custody for an unpaid traffic ticket.
“These are the kinds of realities people face,” Alvarado said. “Three kids could be raised without their mom.”
“While this week’s operation was an enforcement surge, the focus was no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis,” ICE officials said in a statement issued Friday.