On Monday, a group of 33 current and former prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and others in California and across the nation filed an amicus brief in support of a federal lawsuit by the city of Los Angeles challenging the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to award important community policing grants to those jurisdictions that help the feds conduct immigration enforcement, while denying so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions.
In 2017, the DOJ denied Los Angeles officials’ request for more than $3 million in grant money from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) fund an expansion of a much-praised community policing program that has helped reduce violence in housing projects.
The DOJ acknowledged that those jurisdictions that promised they were willing “to cooperate with federal immigration authorities” were given priority over those jurisdictions that did not vow to assist in immigration enforcement.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer’s lawsuit says the preferential treatment is unconstitutional gives LA and other jurisdictions “an untenable choice.” They can either “commit to participating in federal civil immigration investigation and enforcement efforts, or sacrifice funds for public safety and community policing,” according to the suit.
“…These inducements would dangerously impact local communities, by requiring jurisdictions to prioritize civil immigration enforcement over public safety or else lose funding for important public safety and community initiatives,” the lawsuit states. “These requirements would cause community members to distrust the police and justice system officials and thereby result in a decrease in cooperation,” making it harder for prosecutors and local law enforcement officers to protect their communities.
“Nearly four decades ago, the Los Angeles Police Department adopted pioneering policies recognizing that community trust is an essential foundation for effective policing,” said Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor (now executive director Fair and Just Prosecution) who signed the brief. “The Justice Department’s new approach–part of its broader effort to entangle local law enforcement in immigration enforcement–threatens to dismantle the critical bonds of trust that Los Angeles and many other cities have worked so hard to build.”
Krinsky refers to the LAPD’s Special Order 40, a 1979 mandate that prevents police from questioning people with the sole intention of determining their immigration status. Special Order 40 was implemented by then-LAPD Chief Daryl Gates along with the LA City Council, so that undocumented immigrants could feel safe reporting crimes and otherwise engaging with law enforcement without the fear of deportation. Under the mandate, LAPD officers are not to arrest or book anyone solely for violating immigration law.
Ronal Serpas, who has headed the Nashville PD, New Orleans PD, and Washington State Patrol, blasted the “misguided” DOJ policy, which “is making local communities less safe and limiting the discretion of police departments across the country. In my experience, the police officers who patrol the streets should be looked to for direction in those communities and are in the best position to know which policies will make their neighborhoods safe.”
In addition to Krinsky and Serpas, other signatories included San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, Contra Costa DA Diana Becton, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, and William Lansdowne, former police chief for San Diego, San Jose, and Richmond, CA.
You can read the brief as well as the list of those who signed it: here.
In Other Immigration-Related News: ICE Issues Directive for Arresting Immigrants in Courthouses Nationwide
On Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced formal procedures surrounding immigration-related arrests at courthouses.
ICE says agents will not conduct controversial “sweeps” in courthouses, but will specifically target “aliens with criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats, aliens who have been ordered removed from the United States but have failed to depart, and aliens who have re-entered the country illegally after being removed.”
The directive says that other undocumented individuals within the courthouses, like family members of people ICE targets, or people who are serving as witnesses in a court proceeding “will not be subject to civil immigration enforcement action”—unless they interfere with ICE’s efforts to arrest “targeted” immigrants or if an individual “poses a threat to public safety.”
“Individuals entering courthouses are typically screened by law enforcement personnel to search for weapons and other contraband. Accordingly, civil immigration enforcement actions taken inside courthouses can reduce safety risks to the public, targeted alien(s), and ICE officers and agents.” These arrests, “when practicable” will be conducted “discreetly to minimize their impact on court proceedings,” according to the directive.
The directive also blamed sanctuary city policies for forcing the DOJ to ramp up their immigration enforcement activity in courthouses.
“Courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails,” the directive states.
The directive says that ICE agents will “generally avoid” those areas of courthouses not used for criminal cases—like family court and small claims court.
The announcement comes after nearly a year of criticism from advocates as well as local and state officials over courthouse arrests, including from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who blasted the feds for “stalking undocumented immigrants” in and around California court buildings.
“If followed correctly, this written directive is a good start. It’s essential that we protect the integrity of our state court justice system and protect the people who use it,” Cantil-Sakauye said.
Not everyone is pleased with the directive, however.
In an interview with NBC Bay Area’s Jodi Hernandez, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said immigration agents should “stay away from our courthouses.”
And on Twitter, the Anti-Defamation League called ICE’s new directive “deeply concerning.” Courthouse arrests, ADL said, “have chilling effects & deter individuals from accessing our justice system. Courthouses must be treated as sensitive locations & should be off-limits for #ICE enforcement.”