Last month, before Oakland City Council voted to revoke its partnership with the branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tasked with policing international drug, sex and labor trafficking, the Oakland Police Department made a last-ditch effort to save the agreement.
The person who made the case for continuing to work in a limited fashion with ICE was Oakland Police Deputy Chief Danielle Outlaw, Portland's next police chief.
Outlaw's defense of Oakland's memorandum of understanding—which was proposed by the Homeland Security Investigations arm of ICE—raises questions about how she would handle similar requests from the federal agency when she comes to Portland to head the police bureau.
Like Portland, Oakland claims to be a sanctuary city that bucks federal priorities for immigration enforcement under the Trump administration.
In her testimony last month, Outlaw argued that the partnership didn't violate the sanctuary-city goals, and instead helped Oakland police investigate serious crimes like sex trafficking and gang activity.
"The department absolutely does honor and value the city's sanctuary city policy," Outlaw said last month in an Oakland public safety committee meeting. "With that said, the current MOU as it stands, we believe, supports sanctuary city policy and that it does provide parameters and accountability."
Wheeler made promises, which were mostly symbolic, about Portland’s status as a sanctuary city last November, when then-President-elect Donald Trump started threatening to take funds from cities that didn’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Portland City Council voted in March to officially become a not just a sanctuary city, but also “a welcoming city” and “an inclusive city to all.” The Council joined a legal battle in June to fight the Trump’s executive order that would potentially strip the city of federal funds because of that vote.
Wheeler and Outlaw today declined to comment on the apparent contradiction between Wheeler's priorities and those of his new chief.
In Oakland, Outlaw's stance frustrated city officials trying to sever local law enforcement ties to federal immigration enforcement.
Brian Hofer, who chairs Oakland's Privacy Advisory Commission, a local government body which advises the city on privacy concerns, disagrees with Outlaw's assessment of the city's deal with the feds. He says the agreement didn't improve police performance and opened the door to data sharing that could put noncriminal undocumented immigrants at risk.
"What we ultimately found was that the agreement provided no benefit to Oakland," Hofer says.
Hofer says his commission interviewed command-level officers in the Oakland police force over the course of three months about the deal between the city and the Homeland Security branch of ICE, and officers told the commission that the task force that was authorized under the agreement had never been formed.
In her testimony, given on July 11, Outlaw said the agreement empowered the Oakland Police Department to carry out investigations that it otherwise wouldn't have had the resources to pursue—none of which had anything to do with immigration enforcement, she added. Although it is a subdivision of ICE, HSI focuses on international trafficking, gang or other major crime that might involve undocumented immigrants, while it leaves civil immigration enforcement largely to another branch of the federal agency, Enforcement and Removal Operations.
"We work with HSI in doing human traffic investigations, gang investigations, and we work with them as well during our cease-fire operations which focuses on our most violent criminals here in the city of Oakland," Outlaw said at the July 11 meeting.
Hofer said he was shocked when Outlaw spoke in favor of keeping the agreement and listed successes that she said came from the partnership. She credited the agreement with two cases where HSI agents helped OPD charge gang members with federal crimes.
"That was just wrong," Hofer said. "We asked for months what they had been doing with ICE and HSI. Over and over and over they said, 'Nothing.' They bent over backwards to say we don't work with them at all."
The number-one reason given by members of the public, the privacy advisory commission and Oakland City Council members for rescinding the agreement was that it damaged the public's trust in the police department. Many shared worries at the July 11 public safety committee meeting and a July 18 city council meeting that the agreement would facilitate communication and data sharing between OPD and ICE—which some said they feared would lead to heightened immigration enforcement in Oakland.
Although the agreement created a special relationship between ICE and Oakland police, it specifically barred Oakland officers from enforcing civil immigration laws. However, some argued the agreement opened the door to data on thousands of Oaklanders with nonviolent infractions like speeding tickets.
Outlaw's testimony did not address this concern, and Oakland city council members did not press the issue with her.
Hofer says they should have. He says the feds can see the data of their law-enforcement partners, and that's why Oakland was right to ignore Outlaw's advice and break up the partnership.
"To pretend that they don't have access to our data is ridiculous," Hofer said.