Mayor Toni Harp said Tuesday that city policies that protect undocumented residents from arrest and deportation by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers will not change when President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
In an interview with the News, Harp said the New Haven Police Department will not assist ICE on raids to arrest undocumented immigrants, which she said has been NHPD policy since 2006. She added that she has met with Hispanic residents of the city as well as members of advocacy groups Unidad Latina en Acción and JUNTA for Progressive Action to hear their concerns, and that she has begun to put together a committee of community members, alders and other government officials to brainstorm actions the city could to take to defend undocumented residents in the event of a future ICE deportation raid.
Harp said that because deportation is a federal issue, ICE has no right to involve local departments, including the NHPD. She added that assigning NHPD officers to deportation raids would undermine the NHPD’s effort to institute community-based policing, whose goal is to increase trust and communication between residents and officers.
“You can’t raid your residents and gain their trust,” Harp said. “We think it’s more important to gain the trust of our people than to help in these raids.”
Harp noted that the NHPD will continue its policy of not asking those arrested for identification papers detailing citizenship, asserting that the job of the police department is to detain people who are believed to have committed crimes, not to look into their immigration status. Harp said while she was sure that ICE would ask for the NHPD’s assistance in deportation raids and investigations, the department will “decline respectfully.” She said, however, that city government would use its relationships with the Yale Law clinic and other legal aids to support residents arrested by ICE.
This announcement comes at a time when fear of deportation runs rampant among undocumented residents. Trump rose to the presidency amid promises to deport millions of criminal illegal immigrants.
Many undocumented parents in New Haven fear that ICE officers will come to their childrens’ schools and take them away, according to Fatima Rojas, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Fair Haven’s Christopher Columbus Family Academy, a school whose student body is composed largely of immigrants and children of immigrants.
At a November meeting with ULA and JUNTA members, Harp said informing residents that ICE is not legally permitted to enter schools is a high priority moving forward.
This would not be the first time New Haven was the subject of a substantial ICE raid. ULA organizer John Lugo said ICE arrested 32 Elm City residents during a raid in 2007. Lugo explained that the raid came after the city voted to approve the implementation of municipal ID cards, which gave city residents a means by which to identify themselves and thereby to do things such as open bank accounts regardless of immigration status.
“ICE officers went to someone’s house and he wasn’t there, but they arrested five other young men in the house,” Lugo said, explaining that the officers made these arrests on the basis of “racial profiling.”
After a citywide effort to oppose the 2007 raid, which involved then-Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and city alders marching in protest and organizing a legal defense for those arrested, all 32 immigrants were freed, according to ULA volunteer Megan Fountain ’07. The immigrants then sued ICE and won $350,000 in damages.
In recent weeks, mayors of several sanctuary cities, including New York City and Chicago, have vocalized their intent to continue to protect their city’s undocumented immigrants. Nevertheless, Trump has not yet backed down on a promise he made at an Aug. 31 rally to cut all federal funding to sanctuary cities.
In an interview with WNYC, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Trump’s plan to unilaterally cut federal funding to sanctuary cities has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and that funding cuts have to be “very specific to the matter at hand.” This has led to speculation across the nation that Trump might target local agencies that could be seen as responsible for upholding immigration policy, such as local police departments.
NHPD spokesman David Hartman said he has discussed the possibility of federal funding cuts to his department with the mayor. Hartman said these cuts would be “extremely unfortunate” given that the department is already spending every penny it gets in funding and has a backlog of equipment it still needs for the department. Hartman added that the price of outfitting officers has increased greatly as new technology has emerged.
Hartman said it was difficult to estimate how much money the department would lose from cuts in federal funding, given that some federal money trickles down to the department through state agencies and is thus hard to track. In terms of preparing for federal cuts, Hartman said there was little the department could do besides grit its teeth and pray for the best.
“We are thoroughly concerned about this, but it’s kind of like worrying about the pain of getting a flu shot. You’re going to get it, and it’s going to hurt, but there’s no alternative,” he said, but added that he hoped “cooler heads would prevail” and funding to local departments would not be cut.
Trump will take office on Jan. 20, 2017.