Crime & Justice

LAPD further restricts cooperation with ICE but activists say it's not enough

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck issued his new directive in December.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck issued his new directive in December.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

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LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has further limited his department's already restricted cooperation with federal immigration agents, although immigrant rights activists want him to go even further.

Under a directive Beck quietly issued in December, officers will no longer ask people where they were born when interviewing crime victims, witnesses and others they stop but don’t arrest. Sometimes that information – collected on what’s known as field interview cards – has ended up in databases available to immigration and customs agents.

"Our intention was never to collect that information for immigration purposes," said Arif Alikahn, the director of the LAPD’s Office of Constitutional Policing. "But it can create that misimpression."

Beck’s order, which took effect Jan. 1, also prohibits officers from participating in any joint operation with ICE that involves identifying people who are in the U.S. illegally – something that the department already bans but is now codified in policy under the directive, said Alikhan. The new policy also requires the department to report semi-annually to the L.A. Police Commission on its joint operations and other interactions with ICE.

Immigrant rights activists praised the changes, but said they don't go far enough.

Beck should also ban immigration agents from city jails unless they have a federal warrant, and stop participating with ICE in any joint operation, said Emi MacLean, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. The department works with ICE on combatting terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, child pornography and intellectual property crimes.

"We think the risks of LAPD cooperating with ICE are far greater than any rewards and should not be justified," said McLean. The main risk, she said, is LAPD officers inadvertently helping ICE agents deport people who aren't criminals.

While the department firmly prohibits officers from enforcing civil immigration laws, it will continue to help federal agents when they're enforcing criminal laws, said the LAPD's Alikhan. 

As for preventing ICE from entering jails without a federal warrant, he said restrictions are already in place to protect inmates ICE tries to interview.

"They have a right to refuse to be interviewed," said Alikhan. "If they want to be interviewed, they have a right to have an attorney present." He added that city jails rarely hold people for more than 48 hours, and that immigration agents have never requested to interview an inmate.

MacLean said immigrants may still see the LAPD as working hand-in-hand with ICE as the Trump administration seeks to crack down on so-called "sanctuary cities."

"ICE has highlighted that they are going to go after California, that they are going to go after cities that are trying to protect their residents," she said. "There’s more that needs to be done."

Asked about the new LAPD directive, an ICE spokeswoman provided a statement by Acting Director Tom Homan issued last fall after the passage of California's "sanctuary state" law, which directs law enforcement agencies not to ask people's immigration status or to participate in most federal immigration enforcement actions.

"ICE will have no choice but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites," the statement says.