ICE agents make arrest, Feb. 2017 (photo: Charles Reed, ICE via AFP/Getty)
By Matthew Renda, Courthouse News Service
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (CN) – The chief of the Santa Cruz, California, police department on Thursday denounced what he said was the Department of Homeland Security using a criminal roundup of dangerous gang members as cover for a widespread immigration raid.
Police Chief Keith Vogel and Assistant Chief Dan Flippo said Homeland Security lied to the police department by claiming the raid conducted Feb. 13 would be strictly related to the apprehension of members of a gang suspected of assorted criminal activity in the Santa Cruz area.
“This has violated the trust of our community and we cannot tell you how disappointed we are by the betrayal of the DHS,” Vogel said during a press conference.
Vogel and Flippo both said they were clear and repeatedly underscored the department’s participation was contingent on the operation being oriented exclusively to gang activity and not to the immigration status of the community’s citizens.
James Schawb, a spokesman for the San Francisco field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, strongly denied participating in any raids other than those agreed to beforehand. He characterized Vogel’s comments as “reckless and disturbing.”
The police department and ICE arrested 10 members of an MS-13, a gang that originated in Los Angeles and is mostly comprised of Central Americans predominantly from El Salvador.
The gang began operating in Santa Cruz, selling narcotics and engaging in extortion rackets, in about 2013, Flippo said. Gang members are also suspected of carrying out two unsolved homicides in the area.
Seven of the accused gang members received federal indictments on extortion charges, while the other three were arrested on drug charges.
During a Santa Cruz City Council meeting held the day after the raid, several members of the Santa Cruz community – many from the Hispanic neighborhoods of Beach Flats, Live Oak and Lower Ocean – said their neighborhoods were subjected to more widespread immigration raids.
Acting on the assertions of the community members who flooded the council chambers, Flippo began making calls to Homeland Security to “ascertain if the information we were hearing from our community was in fact accurate,” he said.
Flippo corroborated the assertions of the community, and “the Department of Homeland Security, unbeknownst to us at the SCPD, had acted outside the scope of this operation and had detained and removed a number of individuals from various locations based on solely on their immigration status,” Vogel said.
The chief said the severing of trust means the department will no longer work with Homeland Security or ICE, its subsidiary agency.
But Schwab said the police department was clear before the event that some individuals may be held while their individual case histories are determined. He said that while 11 people were detained, 10 of them have been released and the last is being investigated on suspicion of gang affiliation.
Santa Cruz is a sanctuary city, and communities in California continue to feel unease due to President Donald Trump’s promises to round up undocumented immigrants and deport them.
Trump has also threatened to withhold federal dollars from sanctuary cities, counties and states, including Santa Cruz.
But federal officials say this raid was planned before Trump’s inauguration and had nothing to do with his policies.
Ryan L. Spradlin, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in San Francisco, told the Associated Press that “it’s unfortunate when politics get intertwined with a well planned and executed public safety operation.”