San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia has acknowledged he can’t stop federal immigration agents from arresting 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, ICE’s San Francisco field office director, and Shannon McCall, ICE’s 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.
“In 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,” Garcia said, adding that ICE told him there are no plans for raids in San Jose.
The chief’s 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 community’s 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 “not interested in enforcement of victims or witnesses of crimes, as a result of reporting an incident,” which would deviate from the aforementioned reports.
“It seems highly discretionary,” Garcia admitted, adding that “there are no assurances.”
The police chief and Mayor Sam Liccardo have held press conferences and public forums to reassure San Jose’s immigrant communities that the city will not assist ICE operations. City officials are concerned that many people will stop reporting crimes due to fears of family and friends being deported.
James Schwab, a spokesman for ICE’s San Francisco office, declined to say whether or not San Jose will be targeted.
“We wouldn't really speak about our future operations publicly, because of security and safety concerns,” he said. The spokesman noted that ICE’s priority is to remove violent criminals, but all detentions are made on a “case-by-case” basis.
SJPD will not be enlisting in ICE’s 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)—a subset division of ICE—on gang probes with international ties.
“There have been countless times—before the fear we’re currently experiencing—where they would ask for assistance, and quite frankly we would need to have assurances that what happened in Santa Cruz wouldn’t happen here for us to be involved,” Garcia said.
In Santa Cruz, the city’s deputy chief, Rick Martinez, told a Good Times reporter that ICE tricked Santa Cruz police and had undermined the department. “This was a total bait and switch,” he said. “This action violated our trust in HSI and the local community’s trust in us.”
“If something similar were to happen in San Jose, I would have equally strong words,” 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 can only be placed temporarily in the Morgan Hill office, due to the city’s permitting restrictions.
“It's just a processing center, not a detention center,” Schwab said. “I think the maximum time they can stay in there is 12 hours.”
Any undocumented immigrants detained in Santa Clara County would then likely be transported to facilities in Bakersfield or Contra Costa County.
San Jose’s police chief sounded cautiously optimistic after his meeting with ICE, despite noting the lack of certainty in answers he received.
“We really want ICE to be the leaders of the messaging to the community,” Garcia said. “Both Shannon (McCall) and David (Jennings) said they would be open to that.”
San Jose Inside requested an interview with Jennings, but the ICE field office director has yet to be made available for comment.