Imagine yourself picked up by the Berkeley police on a minor matter. You’re quickly cleared for release, but the cops see that you were once suspected — NOT CONVICTED — of a more serious offense.
On top of that, your parents brought you here from another country when you were little, and your papers are not in order.
You’re in it deep now. The cops will turn you over to immigration, and you will be separated from your family, on the way to a country you may know little about.
This scenario is completely realistic, even in Berkeley, the original “City of Refuge.” The weirdest thing is that it will continue to happen even under the supposedly reformed policies that Berkeley City Council is about to consider. Only a strong community turnout Tuesday night can push the council to strengthen protections against police abuse.
Some background: The Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, a broad-based network of civil and human rights groups, immigration rights advocates, legal and faith groups and others, has been struggling for more than a year to codify Berkeley’s progressive values into police policy. We found our opportunity last October, when the Berkeley Police Department’s agreements with the FBI, Immigration, University of California, Oakland and all other agencies came up for review by the council.
In June, the council directed the city manager to draft changes that respect human rights and provide civilian oversight. The city manager has responded with the set of proposals for the council to consider. Community members will bring both support and criticism to Tuesday’s meeting, before a final vote is called on the changes.
Under a fearsome program misnamed “Secure Communities,” which we call simply S-Comm, the feds have deported more than 1 million undocumented immigrants in just the Obama period alone. Most of them are far from being career criminals — just ordinary hard-working family people caught up in the anti-immigrant web.
“Detainer” requests from immigration to local cops are an integral part of S-Comm. But the requests are purely voluntary, with no force of law behind them, because S-Comm was never passed by Congress. It is simply a George W. Bush brainchild that Barack Obama embraced. Communities across the country are refusing to cooperate with this mass-deportation scheme and ignoring the detainer requests.
But here’s the rub. Though the council told Berkeley’s city manager to create a new policy based on the most liberal laws enacted to date, she has filled her proposal with very troubling loopholes. Among the worst provisions is that not just convicted felons but those simply arrested on felony charges will be handed over on Immigration’s request. So even a simple, possibly false complaint against you may get you deported.
Also, the city manager’s new policy does not protect minors from being turned over to Immigration. As Sister Maureen Duignan, executive director of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, said, “Even Immigration Services is more compassionate than the policy proposed by the city manager with regard to minors: A minor who is detained gets a bond to be released.”
We in the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley call for a complete halt to collaboration with the failed S-Comm program. The City Council has denounced the program as incompatible with our Sanctuary City status. So let Berkeley stop collaborating with it!
Wait, there’s more. The coalition and other community members have campaigned tirelessly for a full range of other changes to police policies. We’re hopeful that our effort may bring about some real change. For example, the city is promising to cease reporting merely “suspicious” though legal activities to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. These suspicious activity reports, or SARs, have raised fears of racial, religious and ethnic profiling, particularly in Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities.
The city also says it will ban infiltration and espionage against nonviolent civil disobedience protests. The BPD will also have to notify the City Council when it requests a federal grant for equipment like the armored personnel carrier it applied for in the spring — but only if the grant is for more than $50,000! Finally, a conversation has begun about mutual aid relationships between BPD and other agencies, including UCPD, and how Berkeley can be restrained from participating in crackdowns such as that at Occupy Oakland.
But the proposal remains vague on how these great ideas will be enforced. Who will have oversight authority? Will an independent agency like the Berkeley Police Review Commission make sure the police are respecting human rights? Or will we find out down the road that, behind the scenes, nothing has changed?
How strong a policy we get depends on who comes out in this final hour of the campaign. We need you to tell your stories about personal experience with immigration, profiling and violations of your right to protest.
Berkeley City Council meets Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. in Old City Hall.
George Lippman is the chair of the Peace and Justice Commission and a member of the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley.
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