Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers descended on a number of Southern California communities last week, spreading fear that mass-deportations were underway across Los Angeles County, home to nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants.
Rumors of local police cooperating with ICE officers spread quickly, especially in working class, immigrant communities where distrust of police is in some cases already high.
Since 2014, the California Trust Act has prohibited local jails from holding people under arrest for longer periods than charges require just to give ICE more time to decide whether to take the person into custody.
The two largest law enforcement agencies in the region, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Dept., have both said they will not act as “immigration agents” or cooperate with federal immigration officers.
Smaller police forces, many in cities with large numbers immigrant residents or in the case of Vernon, workers, also say they want to leave immigration enforcement to federal authorities.
Vernon Police Chief Daniel Calleros told EGP he was surprised to hear that one of last week’s raids took place in nearby Downey. He said the Vernon Police Department has no plans to assist ICE with such raids or to detain people in the country without authorization until ICE can take them into custody.
“We don’t work hand-in-hand with ICE,” Calleros emphasized. “We don’t hold anyone on ICE detainers, only actual warrants signed by a judge.”
Calleros said immigration issues are not an area the city gets involved in.
“We don’t ask if you are here illegally, that’s not our job,” he explained, saying it’s the job of the federal government.
He added that Vernon Police would only assist ICE if it were a matter of public safety.
In neighboring Bell Gardens, police Chief Robert E. Barnes also told EGP his department does not get involved in immigration-related matters.
He clarified, however, that some Bell Gardens PD detectives work with ICE agents as part of the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force (L.A. IMPACT), which investigates major narcotic crimes.
EGP was unable to verify whether the LA IMPACT task force assisted in ICE raids last week,
Barnes acknowledged that some of past mistrust of Bell Gardens police might still linger in the working class, predominately Latino southeast city.
“We used to have issues with DUI Checkpoints,” he said, recalling that some people believed the checkpoints were really a pretense for checking a person’s immigration status.
But “that’s not even on our radar” these days, Barnes said.
When asked about the Montebello Police Department’s stance on immigration during the city’s first-ever virtual neighborhood watch meeting last week, Sgt. Marc Marty said a person’s immigration status does not change anything.
“When someone commits a crime, whether or not you’re an [undocumented] immigrant or citizen, we arrest you,” he said. “We arrest people based on the violation of the law and let the courts decide what to do with them.”
Nearby Commerce contracts with the LA County Sheriff’s Department for its policing services, and therefore falls under that department’s guidelines when it comes to immigration enforcement.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell has on numerous occasions sought to assure immigrants that the LA County Sheriff Department is committed to helping all people regardless of their immigration status. He’s emphasized that deputies do not participate in the process of determining the immigration status of people in their custody, or that of crime victims.
Both Calleros and Barnes told EGP they have not received any calls related to the raids from residents or businesses in their respective cities, despite rumors of local police in some areas assisting in immigration checkpoints that have since been discredited.
Both police chiefs did say however, there is one phone call they hope to get should ICE decide to conduct similar operations in Bell Gardens or Vernon.
“I hope that if they do come into our city they give us a courtesy call so we have an idea of what’s going on,” said Calleros.