San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia has acknowledged he canât stop federal immigration agents from arrestingÂ undocumented immigrants in his city, so he did the next best thing: He got them on the record.
Last month, the top cop for the 10th largest city in the nation called up Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and set up a meeting between himself and David Jennings, ICEâs San Francisco field office director, and Shannon McCall, ICEâs assistant field office director for Morgan Hill. SJPD Deputy Chief Anthony Mata also attended the meeting.
The goal of the Feb. 22 sit-down, Garcia said, was to reassure residents that San Jose police will have no role in immigration sweeps and detentions, as well as get a sense of what operations ICE could be planning in the South Bay.
âIn light of everything that has happened in Santa Cruz, basically my main reason was to advocate for our community, to pass on the fears that our community is feeling and find out what their mission and their scope is,â Garcia said, adding that ICE told him there are no plans for raids in San Jose.
The chiefâs reference to Santa Cruz comes after police for the coastal city accused federal immigration officers of conning them into assisting a gang sweep that netted additional undocumented immigrants. ICE officials dispute these accusations.
The incident joins a growing number of reports in which ICE has been blamed for hurting a communityâs trust in law enforcement.
Last week in Los Angeles, ICE staked out a grade school and detained an undocumented man who had just dropped off his daughter. A couple weeks prior, ICE agents in El Paso, Texas, arrested an undocumented woman who had just applied for a protective order for domestic violence.
Garcia said ICE agents told him that they are ânot interested in enforcement of victims or witnesses of crimes, as a result of reporting an incident,â which would deviate from the aforementioned reports.
âIt seems highly discretionary,â Garcia admitted, adding that âthere are no assurances.â
The police chief and Mayor Sam Liccardo have held press conferences and public forums to reassure San Joseâs immigrant communities that the city will not assist ICE operations. City officials are concerned that many peopleÂ will stop reporting crimes due to fears of family and friends being deported.
James Schwab, a spokesman for ICEâs San Francisco office, declined to say whetherÂ or not San Jose will be targeted.
âWe wouldn't really speak about our future operations publicly, because of security and safety concerns,â he said. The spokesmanÂ noted that ICEâs priority is to remove violent criminals, but all detentions are made on a âcase-by-caseâ basis.
SJPD will not be enlisting in ICEâs 287(g) program, which allows local police to be deputized for immigration enforcement, Garcia said. However, the chief added, the department reserves the right to assist Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)âa subset division of ICEâon gang probes with international ties.
âThere have been countless timesâbefore the fear weâre currently experiencingâwhere they would ask for assistance, and quite frankly we would need to have assurances that what happened in Santa Cruz wouldnât happen here for us to be involved,â Garcia said.
In Santa Cruz, the cityâs deputy chief, Rick Martinez, told a Good Times reporter that ICE tricked Santa Cruz police and had undermined the department. âThis was a total bait and switch,â heÂ said. âThis action violated our trust in HSI and the local communityâs trust in us.â
âIf something similar were to happen in San Jose, I would have equally strong words,â Garcia said.
South Bay cities, particularly in South County, where agriculture drives local economies, are a target-rich environment for ICE to conduct immigration enforcement. But anyone detained canÂ only be placed temporarily in the Morgan Hill office, due to the cityâs permitting restrictions.
âIt's just a processing center, not a detention center,â Schwab said. âI think the maximum time they can stay in there is 12 hours.â
Any undocumented immigrants detained in Santa Clara County would then likely be transported to facilities inÂ Bakersfield or Contra Costa County.
San Joseâs police chief sounded cautiously optimistic after hisÂ meeting with ICE, despite noting the lack of certainty in answers he received.
âWe really want ICE to be the leaders of the messaging to the community,â Garcia said. âBoth Shannon (McCall) and David (Jennings) said they would be open to that.â
San Jose Inside requested an interview with Jennings, but theÂ ICE field office director has yet to beÂ made available for comment.