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City Commission hears new GPD Immigration Policy

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Today the Gainesville City Commission heard changes to the Gainesville Police Department’s (GPD) Immigration Policy. The main difference was that “citizenship” was changed to “citizenship or immigration status” throughout the policy. The term “ICE Raids” was also changed to “ICE Operations.”

Another change included changing the phrase “GPD officers are permitted to assist ICE agents” to “GPD officers are permitted to only assist ICE agents” in a section regarding situations in which officers are assigned to a task force or joint criminal investigation. A clause that allowed for exceptions to this policy on a case-by-case basis was removed. The policy also states that approval to participate in “any immigration operation” must be obtained from the Investigations Bureau Chief or higher. 

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The policy also states that local governments may not “prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Federal entities detailed in Title 8, United States Code §1551 information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

Mayor Lauren Poe pointed out that this is an informational item because the City Commission does not have the authority to approve GPD internal orders. Assistant Chief of Police Terry Pierce pointed out that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility.

A number of advocates for the immigrant community showed up to say that the federal law referred to in the policy has been challenged by other communities. They asked for language stating that GPD would not share information about the citizenship or immigration status of victims and witnesses with ICE without a specific request. They said there has already been a “chilling effect” on the willingness of victims and witnesses to come forward.  

Eli Barrett, from Socialist Alternative, went farther: “We must become a legal sanctuary city… You should put into place policies, regardless of its legality, to prevent police officers from reporting anyone, regardless of crimes they’ve committed, to ICE, even if that is an open violation of federal law. If Chief Jones will not comply with this, this City Commission should exercise their right to remove him… It is better to break the law than to break up families.”

Commissioner David Arreola asked about the language protecting witnesses. City Manager Lee Feldman said that, after reviewing federal law and in consultation with the City Attorney’s office, they determined that it would be unlawful to put in a policy that said officers could not communicate with ICE regarding citizenship or immigration status. Feldman said, “I am very sympathetic to every statement that every speaker made today… but the law is the law, and I can’t ask the Chief to put a provision in their policy that is a direct violation of the federal law.”

Arreola said, “I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with our willingness to challenge federal law in certain areas but not in this one.” He also expressed frustration in how long it’s taking for GPD to arrange for the availability of translation services. “When I know that the police department is able to purchase experimental facial recognition technology apps very quickly, but yet we’ve been asking for translation services for so long… think about that when considering future police department policy. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made so far, but again: It just takes one mistake from one person, whether intentional or not. And that’s a very serious responsibility that I think cannot be understated.”

Commissioner Gail Johnson said, “I’m disappointed that it has taken so long for us to get to this point, and I want to once again apologize to you all because… in the almost two years that I’ve been on this commission, I am so incredibly, keenly aware of whose voices we prioritize, how we prioritize our decisions, how staff does that, and I literally walk around in a ball of rage about it. So I want everyone to hear me really clearly… when I say that I’m in favor of the clarifying language. And like Commissioner Arreola said, we’re constantly challenging legal statutes, and once again, I want us, as a commission, staff, and community to ask whose voices are we prioritizing? Who are we listening to? And what are we willing to challenge, and who are we willing to challenge them for?”

City Attorney Nicole Shalley said, “I’ve heard this notion that we’re not willing to challenge a federal law. As we advised you, we’re the city’s counsel, and we’re always willing to go challenge a law if there are actual grounds for us to do that. But in this case, the federal law that the City Manager read to you… was passed by the United States Congress in 1996. Shortly thereafter, the City of New York, who’d had an order and policy in place since 1989, an order that prohibited their employees and officials from voluntarily providing information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, challenged that federal law right after it was adopted, and the federal court said, ‘Sorry, New York City, this federal law takes precedence; it preempts you and says you cannot have any such order.’ The Supreme Court declined to take cert review, meaning that the Supreme Court was satisfied with the status of that federal law. So, in this case, there is no room for us to go make arguments challenging a federal law that’s already been challenged for the same type of language and that’s been in place since 1996.”

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos asked if any other cities or counties had language that had survived lawsuits. Mayor Lauren Poe said he would ask his assistant to set up a meeting with attorneys to gather information about possible language for a policy. 

Commissioner Harvey Ward said, “I have no interest in doing something so we feel good. I want to do something… that will actually keep people from being reported to ICE… Show us language that has been tested already… so we can get it done… Those of you who have personal stories and have been personally touched by… ICE and by our punitive immigration policies… I’m sorry. I wish it didn’t work that way.”

Poe said they would get together soon and figure out what the next steps would be.