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Bay Area police won't help ICE on immigration sweeps

SAN FRANCISCO -- Officials from several Bay Area law enforcement agencies said Wednesday that federal officials haven't looped them in on any plans for major sweeps for undocumented immigrants, and added that they didn't plan to help with any such operations.

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Evan Sernoffsky
Hamed Aleaziz, San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO -- Officials from several Bay Area law enforcement agencies said Wednesday that federal officials haven't looped them in on any plans for major sweeps for undocumented immigrants, and added that they didn't plan to help with any such operations.

The response from local jurisdictions came after The Chronicle reported that U.S. officials are gearing up for a major dragnet in Northern California, during which they will seek to arrest more than 1,500 undocumented immigrants.

Federal officials have expressed frustration with sanctuary policies adopted by the state and local governments that limit cooperation with immigration-law enforcement. Last month, the acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Thomas Homan, said California ``better hold on tight'' and that if local officials ``don't want to protect their communities, then ICE will.''

The plan for sweeps drew a scathing reaction Wednesday from many California lawmakers. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco called it ``deeply shameful,'' and state Senate President Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, called it a threat by the Trump administration to ``weaponize federal agencies against California.''

The state's U.S. senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, sent a letter to Homan saying they were ``deeply concerned'' about The Chronicle's report and asking to be briefed on any enforcement plans.

``Rather than focusing efforts on violent criminals, raids carried out in neighborhoods and workplaces could result in the deportation of individuals who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,'' the senators wrote.

ICE officials declined to comment.

It's unclear whether local authorities would receive any notice from ICE before a raid. Officials with the San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Richmond and San Rafael police departments, along with the Santa Clara and Alameda county sheriff's offices, all said Wednesday they had not been notified about planned immigration operations.

``We know nothing about anything to do with what ICE is doing -- we're as out of the loop as anyone else in the public,'' said Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

He said his agency doesn't expect any notification from ICE before a sweep happens.

``They don' t have to tell us, and they may not,'' Kelly said, adding that being in the dark about such a raid puts the Sheriff's Office in a ``tricky spot.''

``We're concerned about our communities and our safety,'' he said.

San Rafael Police Chief Diana Bishop said ICE has notified her agency's dispatch center during past operations. Such a ``courtesy call,'' she said, is important for public safety reasons, because cities need to know when armed law enforcement personnel are operating in their jurisdictions.

She said ICE has not asked San Rafael police to help in any upcoming raids, and that she didn't know whether federal officials would notify the department of planned sweeps.

All California law enforcement jurisdictions were sharply limited from cooperating with raids as of Jan. 1, when a new state law took effect. It bars law enforcement officers from arresting people for civil immigration warrants or participating in joint task forces with federal officials to enforce immigration laws.

The law's supporters argue that immigrant communities will be less likely to cooperate with local police to solve crimes if those same police also take part in ICE raids.

``Whenever ICE conducts enforcement operations in a community that includes immigrants, there is a real risk that people in that community, including U.S. citizens, will become fearful of law enforcement in general, and that as a natural reaction they will limit their reporting of crimes,'' said Hiroshi Motomura, a professor and immigration law expert at UCLA.

In the past, some California law enforcement agencies have participated is smaller-scale ICE actions, including assisting in gang enforcement operations and providing traffic control during raids. Even those actions, however, drew criticism from immigrants rights groups.

In February, Santa Cruz officers assisted ICE in an operation that police officials believed would focus only on arresting alleged MS-13 gang members. Police said they had learned belatedly that the operation also netted people suspected only of immigration violations.

The operation led to an outcry from local advocates and politicians. Then-Mayor Cynthia Chase said the operation ``created a ripple effect of fear and mistrust.''

In August, Oakland police encountered similar objections when they provided traffic control during an ICE raid at the home of a family from Guatemala. Federal agents said they were conducting a human trafficking investigation and detained two adult brothers, resulting in deportation proceedings against one of them.

Officer Johnna Watson, a spokeswoman for Oakland police, said the department was unaware of any upcoming raids and that Chief Anne Kirkpatrick would honor a resolution the City Council passed in July to end the city's agreement with ICE to participate in task forces.

Kirkpatrick ``supports and values Oakland as a sanctuary city,'' Watson said.

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