Surprising move negates immediate possibility of City police assisting federal deportation efforts; City may be the first in the U.S. to decline to renew agreement widely in place after 9/11
Published : Thursday, February 16, 2017 | 6:17 AM
In an unexpected move which took local activists by surprise, Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell announced at Wednesday evening’s Public Safety Committee meeting that he would not execute a Memorandum of Understanding between the Pasadena Police Department and Immigration Customs Enforcement which is up for renewal.
The long-standing, but only recently publicly revealed, agreement technically mandates the Pasadena Police Department to assist federal immigration authorities with “any investigation or joint operation” within the City’s borders. Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez said Sunday, however, that previous versions of the agreement have never been acted upon, and that the Police Department maintains a policy of not assisting with purely immigration-related federal enforcement efforts.
Chief Sanchez had signed the agreement’s renewal on November 15, 2016.
Mermell told the Committee Wednesday night that the City’s Charter specifies that no City contract is valid unless “executed by an officer of the municipal corporation — in other words, me. I have not executed this MOU with ICE and furthermore, I am not going to be executing this MOU with ICE at the current time.”
Agreement Between Pasadena Police and Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement Click to Read
Mermell further explained that the Council’s Legislative Policy Committee had met recently to review both its state and federal legislative platforms. As part of the federal legislative platforms, said Mermell, there is a section related to immigration, and Mermell told the meeting that the Legislative Policy committee will be bringing forth a recommendation to “modify its language” in that area, and thus it would be “inappropriate” for him to “get ahead of where the Council may want to go.”
Mermell also said the City has received notification that members of the public and certain local organizations are proposing the adoption of an “Immigration Status and Bias-Free Policing Policy for the Pasadena Police Department,” and that consideration of such a policy may also be taken up by the City Council, either in the context of immigration policy, or separately.
“Until that discussion occurs,” said Mermell, “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to execute that agreement.”
Mermell further noted that he was “tightening up on contracting across the City” and directing the City’ Audit Department to review all departments’ compliance with the requirement that contracts have his approval, including other Pasadena Police Department contracts or Memoranda of Understanding (known as MOUs) with other law enforcement agencies.
“This was a really smart move,” said local civil rights attorney Dale Gronemeier, who has been at odds with the Pasadena Police Department on several issues over the years. “Steve Mermell’s action warrants commendation for getting out in front of this issue.”
Gronemeier added, “His action was not only smart, but it also took some courage; a weaker city manager might have rolled over to police pressure and ratified the Police Chief’s signing of the ICE-PPD MOU.”
Much of the reaction to the revealing of the agreement’s existence over the weekend was centered on the fact that few, if any of the City Councilmembers other than the Mayor, were aware of the agreement’s existence.
“I think that every City Council member had no clue of this agreement’s existence until we saw the stories in the press,” said Councilmember Tyron Hampton.
A perturbed Councilmember John Kennedy reacted on Sunday, as the story of the agreement broke, by saying “This is just another example of how City government has not respected the Public Safety Committee. This is an issue that is squarely in the purview of the (Committee) and, to the best of my knowledge, no presentation, and no notice prior to this, was provided to the Committee.”
Kennedy continued, “I believe that there are members of the Public Safety Committee, particularly Councilmember Madison, a former US prosecutor, who is very much interested in immigration issues, and then Councilmember Hampton, who has expressed himself about these types of issues from an ecumenical sense and just ‘good government’. I think they have both been vocal about doing what is right for our community.”
It is unknown if other U.S. cities have refused to sign similar agreements since the new Presidential administration took office.