Birmingham delays ICE agreement, wants to assure it won’t lead to police involvement in deportations

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Miranda Fulmore, WBHM

The Birmingham City Council has delayed approval of an agreement with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that would appoint several city police officers as customs officers for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations jurisdiction.

The 3-year deal would provide for the continuation of a previously established task force that District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams said is focused on “combating both human trafficking and large-scale narcotics operations in the city of Birmingham.”

Mayor Randall Woodfin asserted that the agreement would not result in deportations or administrative removal of any undocumented Birmingham residents.

“I have stated on a pretty consistent basis that the city of Birmingham does not have any interest in doing the federal government’s job, but there’s something more powerful than words, and that’s, like, your actions,” Woodfin said. “We’re not here to do the job of deportation.”

But the association with ICE — and the unclear wording of the ordinance — left both advocates and councilors dubious of the proposal.

Ana Delia Espino, executive director of the Alabama Coalition of Immigrant Justice, warned that the deal would be “a slap in the face” to the city’s immigrant community.

“Though there is some messaging that tells us that there is limited participation, it still doesn’t take away the fact of the repercussions, where police relationships with immigrant communities are not strong,” she said. “This is really a breakdown of the trust and the hard work that we have been doing in advocacy for the immigrant community … There is no need for our police to be trained as ICE officers in any way, shape or form because it opens the door to deepening more hurt and distrust to our relationships.”

Carlos Alemán, CEO of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama and a Homewood city councilor, argued that the language of the agreement was “problematic.”

“I think it is not clear, as to the extent of the cooperation between the city of Birmingham and HSI or ICE,” he said. “What happens once a (Birmingham officer) is an HSI agent, and when the enforcement arm of ICE calls and asks for information? What is the extent of the cooperation between the two parties?”

“If it’s specifically about human trafficking or narcotics, then it should explicitly state that,” Alemán said. “Otherwise, it could be interpreted too broadly.”

Williams attempted to amend the ordinance to include the specific language Alemán suggested, but other councilors argued that they’d be more comfortable referring the item to the council’s public safety committee. The motion to delay passed unanimously.

The proposal will next appear before a public safety committee chaired by newly elected councilor LaTonya Tate, thanks to a new slate of council committee assignments approved Tuesday. Those assignments are:

Administration

Wardine Alexander, chair

Valerie Abbott

Carol Clarke

Budget and Finance

Crystal Smitherman, chair

Valerie Abbott

Wardine Alexander

Economic Development

Hunter Williams, chair

J.T. Moore

Darrell O’Quinn

Education

J.T. Moore, chair

Darrell O’Quinn

Clinton Woods

Governmental Affairs/Public Information

Clinton Woods, chair

Valerie Abbott

Carol Clarke

Parks and Recreation/Cultural Arts/Tourism

Carol Clarke, chair

Crystal Smitherman

LaTonya Tate

Planning and Zoning

Valerie Abbott, chair

LaTonya Tate

Clinton Woods

Public Improvements and Beautification

Crystal Smitherman, chair

J.T. Moore

Clinton Woods

Public Safety

LaTonya Tate, chair

Crystal Smitherman

Hunter Williams

Transportation

Darrell O’Quinn, chair

LaTonya Tate

Clinton Woods

Utilities/Technology

Wardine Alexander, chair

Darrell O’Quinn

Hunter Williams

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