Over 200 community members and leaders gathered at City Hall on Tuesday night, and filled the room to maximum occupancy while others sat outside and viewed the meeting through glass windows or watched from other rooms via livestream broadcasting.
Santa Cruz City Council ruled unanimously to move forward with implementing a “sanctuary” ordinance to restrict local law enforcement and other departments, from cooperating with federal immigration agencies.
About 30 individuals addressed the City Council in public comment, most of them demanding a more strongly worded ordinance and transparency from the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) about collaborating with federal immigration agencies.
The proposed ordinance comes as a result of public urgency to strengthen the “Resolution to Maintain Trust and Safety for Local Immigrants,” commonly known as the sanctuary resolution passed earlier this year. Even so, city attorney Anthony Condotti said from a legal perspective, both the sanctuary resolution and ordinance are “identical.”
Many came to hear what City Council members, SCPD Chief Kevin Vogel and Deputy Chief Dan Flippo had to say about the sanctuary ordinance and the recent raids that occurred in early February in collaboration with Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
“The unprofessionalism, the sloppiness and the misinformation that is coming out of these raids causes more severances of trust in the community,” said activist and Beach Flats muralist Irene O’Connell. “[SCPD]’s readiness to trust [DHS] is troubling, especially when it’s become very clear that information from federal agents is not reliable and that they cannot be trusted. This is not the kind of policing we want.”
The Feb. 13 arrests were a result of a five-year long collaborative investigation between SCPD and DHS of alleged Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, gang activity in the Santa Cruz area. However, not all arrests during this operation were related to criminal allegations; some were solely immigration related. At a news conference on Feb. 23, Vogel announced DHS was to blame for the immigration-related detentions and that SCPD had been “misled.”
During a presentation to the public and City Council, Vogel and Flippo were unable to give a clear account of exactly what happened during the raid. They said 20 or 21 individuals total were arrested, 10 of which were detained or arrested for immigration-related reasons, Flippo said. Five of the 10 detained for immigration-related causes were released with GPS monitoring.
Vogel said SCPD was entirely unaware of immigration-related arrests until a community member brought it to its attention and further questioning of DHS.
“The Department of Homeland Security, unbeknownst to [SCPD], had acted out of the scope of this operation,” Vogel said. “[They] detained and removed a number of individuals from various locations based upon their immigration status.”
ICE spokesperson for the San Francisco field office James Schwab maintains SCPD clearly understood the operation prior to Feb. 13.
“Allegations that the agency secretly planned an immigration enforcement action in hopes there would be new political leadership that would allow for an alleged ‘secret’ operation to take place are completely false, reckless and disturbing,” he said in a press release.
Because there are still many questions left unanswered by SCPD and DHS — like which agency was fully in charge of the operation, whether or not SCPD knew about immigration-related arrests prior to the operation and why local law enforcement partnered with DHS in the first place — the public demanded transparency.
Nearly every community member who spoke expressed a sense of betrayal by SCPD. Some referred to the arrests as “forced disappearances” and demanded more than a sanctuary resolution or an ordinance.
“We need an ordinance that does not allow for a number of exceptions,” said UCSC graduate student Robert Cavooris. “[…] We need no exceptions and immediate notification if the Department of Homeland Security requests assistance from SCPD and we need the strongest [ordinance] you can craft — we need that and we need it as soon as possible.”
The public called upon local law enforcement to rebuild trust by talking to community members, particularly those affected by the raid. Many also demanded SCPD to not only denounce any future collaboration with federal immigration agents, but defend community members from being deported.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for March 14 to discuss next steps in implementing the ordinance.