Illustration by Louise Leong.
Illustration by Louise Leong.

With the flourished scribble of a pen, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer took the topic of immigration reform, already a contentious subject, and turned it into a hotly debated headline that stretched across continents and had cities throughout the United States calling for protests and boycotts. A few hundred miles away, Santa Cruz is a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants who hope to seek better lives without retribution, and many Santa Cruzans couldn’t help shaking their heads in disdain at the new legislation.

These same people, who are relieved to live far from such rules, are now concerned that a small slice of Arizona may be coming to Santa Cruz.

Residents and politicians alike are apprehensive at the recent announcement that the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) is teaming up with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Unit (ICE) in response to a spike in gang-related crime in the city over the past year.

The collaboration involves SCPD partnering with ICE’s Community Shield Program, a cooperative effort in which ICE reaches out to law enforcement agencies on the local level. This collaboration provides additional assistance with investigating gang activity and carrying out gang suppression operations. ICE has already joined forces with the Salinas Police Department, the Watsonville Police Department and the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department to curb gang crime, and has implemented its Community Shield Program with cities throughout the United States.

To the undocumented community and its supporters, ICE — or “La Migra,” as it is often called — is an unwelcome sight in many neighborhoods. The agency is notorious for conducting raids on schools and workplaces, during which ICE rounds up suspected undocumented immigrants and deports them back to their home countries without regard for the fact that it may break up families.

Although the SCPD has stated that ICE is not here to deal with “petty immigration violations,” residents still have cause for concern, due to the federal agency’s reputation for targeting the undocumented, regardless of whether or not they have a criminal background.

In order to pacify the unease of legal and illegal residents of Santa Cruz, the SCPD needs to meet with the community and clearly distill the reasoning behind ICE’s presence and the activities it will be carrying out. It should also continuously update the City Council and the media through meetings and press releases about any local incidents that ICE gets involved in.

It is essential that the SCPD increase its outreach to the Chicano community. We must provide bilingual information about the joint effort with ICE to curb gang violence.

Transparency and accountability are necessary to assure residents that ICE is here to target violent gang members and not undocumented immigrants with clean criminal records. If people are dubious as to whether or not ICE is being kept in check in Santa Cruz, it could cause a whirlwind of controversy that nobody wants to see.

While Santa Cruz could stand to benefit from extra assistance in pulling violent gang members off the streets, the same cannot be said about targeting innocent undocumented immigrants, who consider the city a haven from persecution. Community members need to keep their guard up and serve not only as extra eyes and ears for criminal activities by gang members, but also pay attention to the potential criminality against Santa Cruz’s sanctuary city status that could occur if ICE’s activity is not monitored carefully.