Berkeley could see ICE arrests in coming weeks

Federal immigration officials are planning a sweep in Northern California sanctuary cities like Berkeley.

ICE has announced upcoming arrests in California’s sanctuary cities. In November 2016 and many times since, Berkeley protesters have advocated for immigrant rights. Photo: Anthony Bertolli

Sanctuary cities like Berkeley and others in the Bay Area are expected to be targeted in an upcoming sweep by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday that federal agents seek to arrest more than 1,500 undocumented immigrants in Northern California in the coming weeks, cracking down on state and local governments that have sought to shield their residents from arrest and deportation. The sweep, which could take place over the course of a day or more, will focus on people already identified as deportation targets, according to the Chronicle’s unnamed source.

The revelation has prompted concerns that ICE agents will show up at workplaces and homes, and make “collateral arrests,” detaining other undocumented immigrants they encounter during these actions.

ICE spokesman James Schwab said he could not confirm or deny plans of a sweep in the Bay Area.

“We don’t speculate on future enforcement actions,” he told Berkeleyside.

Local and state officials have criticized ICE’s reported plans.

“I am very concerned about news of planned ICE raids in the Bay Area, especially when innocent people who have no criminal record will likely be swept up in the dragnet,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a statement sent to Berkeleyside on Wednesday. “While I understand the need to go after violent criminals, arresting anyone who is in the country illegally is not the kind of immigration reform we need.”

ICE’s plans are likely designed to thwart the state’s new sanctuary law. In signing SB54 into law in October, Governor Jerry Brown severely restricted, though did not eliminate, the ability of state and local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration agents or ask about immigration status.

Foreshadowing this week’s disclosure, Brown wrote at the time, “This bill does not prevent or prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Homeland Security from doing their own work in any way.”

ICE leadership has blasted the California “sanctuary state” law.

“ICE will have no choice but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites, which will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests, instead of focusing on arrests at jails and prisons where transfers are safer for ICE officers and the community,” wrote Tom Homan, acting director, in an October statement.

Schwab said Homan’s “words still remain valid.”

Many local officials, including Berkeley’s, have worked to strengthen municipal sanctuary policies over the past year, in response to anti-immigrant rhetoric by President Donald Trump, who has threatened to defund sanctuary cities and deport all undocumented immigrants.

City of Berkeley and school district officials gathered to reaffirm Berkeley’s sanctuary city status shortly after the 2016 election. Photo: Tracey Taylor

In 1971, Berkeley was the first city in the country to declare itself a sanctuary. The resolution was first intended to shield Vietnam War draft resisters, and was soon after directed at immigrants and refugees. Berkeley has reaffirmed its sanctuary status multiple times since, including after the 2016 election, when Mayor Arreguín assembled a sanctuary city taskforce comprised of city, Berkeley Unified and higher education leaders, along with community advocates.

Based on recommendations from the taskforce, the Berkeley City Council amended its sanctuary resolution in July to clarify steps that police and other city employees can take to avoid cooperating with ICE and enforcing federal immigration law. The updated policy now directs city employees not to respond to any requests from ICE, or to forward them to top officials, unless the agents have a judicial warrant. If ICE officers attempt to enter a city building, they must be prevented from doing so until the site director and the city manager review the request.

The Berkeley group has also worked to develop a rapid-response network, set up to provided immediate legal support and other assistance to undocumented immigrants during raids. The group has also worked to educate residents and businesses about immigrant rights and local resources (in English and in Spanish).

“There is not much the city can do to prevent the raids,” said Arreguín in his Wednesday statement, but he urged residents to report raids to the Alameda County Immigration Legal & Educational Partnership hotline at 510-241-4011. The city has also partnered with the Northern California Rapid Response and Immigrant Network, which issued directions to its members in response to the Chronicle report.

Berkeley has also set aside $50,000 for the legal defense of residents facing deportation, said Arreguín, and his office is currently working on a request for proposals from legal organizations.

Berkeley High students formed a human chain in support of immigrant students’ rights in September. Photo: Pete Rosos

Last spring, an immigration attorney told Berkeleyside there have been few to no ICE raids in Berkeley in the past few years. ICE did make a publicized arrest involving a local family in 2008. Berkeley High School students held hands in a “human chain” around their campus in protest at the time, an action replicated in September by BHS students protesting Trump’s decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Overall, Trump actually deported fewer people in 2017 than President Barack Obama did in either 2016 or 2015, according to ICE data. Obama was responsible for more deportations than any other president. However, Trump has directed ICE to include groups of people who were not vulnerable to deportation under Obama in its enforcement. That new approach is reflected in the greater number of “interior deportations,” or those involving only people who have already been living in the U.S. versus those caught crossing the border, in 2017, along with an increase in ICE arrests.

In Berkeley and beyond, many people are on high alert. In November, a Berkeley Police Department Special Response unit action was mistaken by many for an ICE raid.

At the time, Lt. Andrew Frankel told Berkeleyside that BPD would never cooperate with ICE, saying that would be “contrary to our city’s values.”

In August, Oakland police were seen directing traffic during an ICE arrest, sparking controversy over the department’s potential assistance with a case that was initially described as a human trafficking case. The case produced no evidence of trafficking, however, and resulted in deportation hearings. Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council unanimously passed a resolution against all cooperation with ICE, not just in deportation cases.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has also faced heat for its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. The county does not make arrests based on immigration status, and the sheriff has said officials never inquire about immigration status, but the county does provide ICE with information about inmates, including release dates.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously a reporter for Berkeleyside.