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Escondido Passes on Federal Funds That Would've Required ICE Cooperation

Escondido is passing on federal funds that would've required the police department to work with ICE on immigration enforcement, but the police chief says the decision was purely financial.

The Escondido police and fire headquarters / Photo by Genevieve Prentice

The Escondido Police Department has decided not to accept a community policing grant from the Department of Justice.

To apply for the grant, the department had to sign an agreement assuring the DOJ that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials would have access to immigrants in the department’s jails – something potentially in conflict with California state laws intended to protect immigrants from immigration enforcement during interactions with local law enforcement.

Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter previously told Voice of San Diego he didn’t think the agreement violated the California Values Act — the so-called sanctuary state law — but said he was unsure the department would accept the money regardless. The federal grant required a match from local sources, and Carter wasn’t sure the department could afford it.

In a January letter rejecting the grant, Carter reiterated his financial concerns.

“Unfortunately, the financial constraints during the latter years of this grant have made it impractical to accept,” wrote Carter. “At this time, we respectfully decline participation in the program.”

Immigrant advocates in North County are glad the department turned down the deal because of its mandate to cooperate with immigration enforcement.

“As community advocates, we didn’t feel like there was a lot of transparency and dialogue around the application,” said Felicia Gomez, policy director for the California Immigrant Policy Center. “We would have liked them to have considered bringing it to the community members, especially seeing that they signed that supplemental agreement.”

The Community Oriented Policing Services grant would have awarded $250,000 to Escondido to hire two full-time officers for three years.

In September, Carter and Mayor Sam Abed signed a “Certification of Illegal Immigration Cooperation” alongside the city’s application for the grant.

The document stated that before the agency could use the money, it would “implement rules, regulations, policies, and/or practices that ensure that U.S. Department of Homeland Security personnel have access to any of the governing body’s correctional or detention facilities in order to meet with an alien (or an individual believed to be an alien) and inquire as to his or her right to be or to remain in the United States.”

It also stipulated that the agency would implement policies ensuring DHS would be notified of the release date and time of any undocumented immigrant in custody.

North County advocates have been pushing the agency not to accept the grant ever since they heard of its terms and conditions.

“Even though Chief Carter felt it didn’t violate SB54, we felt it violated the spirit of the law,” said Ricardo Favela of Alianza Comunitaria, which has been monitoring immigration enforcement activity in North County. “It was a public process that we needed to have a say in.”

On Jan. 11, a group of North County immigration advocates, including representatives from Alianza Comunitaria, American Friends Service Committee San Diego and the California Immigrant Policy Center held a press conference at Escondido’s city hall, calling for the department to reject the grant and comply with the California Values Act, which went into effect in January and is supposed to restrict how and when local law enforcement agencies can work with federal immigration agents.

The organizations also put out a call to action in early February, asking community members to flood the police department and mayor’s office with phone calls and e-mails imploring the department not to accept the grant.

“I would like to think it has to do with community efforts and relationships being built between the community and law enforcement,” Gomez said, who has been meeting with law enforcement throughout the county about the implementation of the California Values Act. “Hopefully the department heard us.”

Favela said the call-to-action reached about 30,000 people on Facebook.

“We felt that we needed to take action because we heard of the city’s application for a grant that asked them to collaborate with ICE agents,” Favela said. “We felt this was uncalled for, we needed to let the community know, let our base know this was happening. I do know that it was enough for Chief Carter to have gotten the message. He had let us know that his office was full of phone calls for two days.”

By this time, the department had already decided not to accept the grant, though Favela and Gomez both said advocates and the community hadn’t been notified of the department’s.

In an e-mail, Carter reiterated that the decision was a financial one.

“The sole reason was that it didn’t make financial sense,” he wrote.

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