A special agents from HSI (file photo). Photo: ICE

ICE agents arrested one person in South Berkeley on Friday morning in connection with a criminal investigation, authorities report.

ICE officials told Berkeleyside that the Homeland Security Investigations arm of ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, made one arrest in Berkeley “in furtherance of an ongoing criminal investigation.” ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations arm was not involved and made no administrative arrests, officials said.

The Berkeley Police Department confirmed there was a Department of Homeland Security operation on Parker Street, but the city of Berkeley was not involved. BPD said the arrest may have related to a controlled-substance investigation, but could not confirm it.

A UC Berkeley student who alerted Berkeleyside to the activity said he was driving through the area shortly before 10 a.m. when he saw three men in a yard at Parker and Ellsworth streets. Two wore what appeared to be bulletproof vests, and it looked as if they had parked a dark-colored unmarked truck across the driveway, blocking it.

The student, who asked to be kept anonymous due to privacy and security concerns, said the vests said something like “federal authorities” or “US agent.” They did not say “ICE,” he said. He then called the Berkeley Police Department to report the activity. BPD told him it knew of the operation but wasn’t part of it.

The men in the yard appeared to be waiting and watching the street, the student said. There was no obvious sign of activity inside the home, but the door was closed so there wasn’t a clear view.

After he first saw the agents, he got worried, and drove around a second time to see what was happening.

“I was hoping it wasn’t an immigration raid happening in our neighborhood,” he said. “That would be terrible. It really upset me.”

Berkeley Police Lt. Andrew Rateaver said BPD was not involved with the operation because the federal request had not been in compliance with the Berkeley’s “City of Refuge” policy.

“They make a request for assistance, and they provide the nature and background for the need,” he said. “I then compare that info with our policy and see if we would be in compliance if we were to use city resources. In this instance we would not have been, so no city resources were provided.”

One community member told Mayor Jesse Arreguín on Twitter that agents he believed were with ICE were “currently on my block in Berkeley with like 10 officers and 6 unmarked vehicles” as of about 9:55 a.m. The mayor responded that he would look into the report.

Arreguín told Berkeleyside on Friday afternoon he also understood the morning operation to have been criminal in nature, rather than civil. And he said he thought there may well be confusion in the community because ICE has separate civil and criminal divisions but are within the same agency. Even though Friday’s operation has not been described as an immigration raid, it has still put many on alert, he said.

Arreguín said there have also been unconfirmed reports that two other people were detained during the morning arrest. He said he didn’t know if that was true, or what the status of those people were.

And he also said, speaking only hypothetically, it remains unclear what would happen if ICE agents come to Berkeley for a criminal case but come across undocumented individuals during their work.

“Regardless, it’s definitely going to raise concern, and make it clear to people that ICE will be more likely to come into our community with all sorts of operations,” he said.

The possibility of immigration raids to round up undocumented community members has been an ongoing issue of local concern. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in January that federal agents sought to arrest more than 1,500 undocumented immigrants in Northern California in early 2018, and planned to crack down on state and local governments that have sought to shield their residents from arrest and deportation. More than 150 people in Northern California, including in Oakland, have been arrested by the agency this year, according to USA Today.

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, as previously reported on Berkeleyside.

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.

Remarks from Mayor Jesse Arreguín were added shortly after publication.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...