Opinion: Berkeley City Council freezes anti-ICE contract measure; residents demand action

The City Council has put off considering this ordinance time and time again.

For almost a year the Berkeley City Council has refused to take a stand against those who aid and abet ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in its terrorist activities. For almost a year the Berkeley City Council has engaged in an anti-democratic charade as it has fancy-stepped around consideration of an ordinance that should be a straightforward case of right vs. wrong.

“ICE took away my client’s prosthetic leg and arm. They kept his leg for five months. They still haven’t given back his prosthetic arm, and now they’re going to deport him tomorrow without. They’ve never explained why. His asylum appeal is still pending. This is human cruelty.” 

That ordinance, the Sanctuary City Contracting Ordinance, is a very simple one. If you as a company provide ICE with information or technology that enables it to locate and persecute undocumented immigrants, then the city of Berkeley is not going to do business with you in the future (existing contracts are not imperiled (an exception can also be granted for single-source, critical resources). That’s it.

Ordinances of this type are nothing new to Berkeley; similar ordinances have been enacted in the past having to do with nuclear contractors and those involved in building Trump’s racist wall.

“We’re trying to help a woman ICE just arrested at a marriage green card interview in Memphis who is 5 months pregnant in a high-risk pregnancy. They are not giving her her meds and she is being sent to a detention facility 6 hours away. US citizen husband is frantic.” 

And yet in the spring of 2018, the Council refused to act, fobbing the ordinance off to the Peace and Justice Commission in such a way that it would not come back to Council until well into the fall. Even then, in October and again in November the City Council refused to take a vote on the ordinance after placing it on the agenda. Interested parties, including the press, immigration rights supporters and many concerned citizens came to those Council meetings and endured, patiently, for hours waiting to testify against ICE cooperation – only never to be given the chance.

“A US-Born Marine Veteran Detained By ICE Was Carrying His US Passport When He Was Arrested… and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which held him for three days before his lawyer demanded his release…” 

On Jan. 29th, the ICE ordinance again appeared on the agenda. But at this point the council had achieved its goal of public participation fatigue – almost none of the people who had shown up in the spring and fall had come – worn down and exasperated as they were by the City Council’s obvious stonewalling. And they were correct not to do so! Once again the Council, with no objection, delayed consideration of the ordinance to the Feb. 26 meeting.

7 month old [child was] separated from her parents by ICE.” 

This is abuse of the public. This is abuse of Council procedure. This is abuse of power. If the council wants the city to continue to do business with ICE contractors then it should say so. If the council wants to support those who support ICE in perpetrating abuses such as those interlaced herein…

“Aida fled domestic violence in El Salvador and rebuilt her life in America. She avoided criminal trouble, applied for asylum and in Sep. gave birth to a boy. In November, ICE arrested her and has kept her detention since. She’s seen her baby twice.” 

…or the literally countless other acts against human decency than have come across the newswires since ICE’s reign of terror began, then each member of the Council should speak clearly into his or her microphone

“I SUPPORT WHAT ICE IS DOING. I VOTE NO ON THIS ORDINANCE.”

Or they could take the principled stand, as city councils before them did on a variety of moral issues of the day. They could vote the ordinance into law.

Instead, they have chosen to freeze the process in carbonite, in a galaxy far, far away, beyond the reach of “AYE” or “NAY.”

JP Massar, Phyllis Brooks Shafer, James McFadden, Elsa Johnson and Sally Nelson are District 4 residents and members of the McGee-Spaulding Neighbors in Action, a group of about 80 politically active, progressive residents. The op-ed is written on the group's behalf.