When it comes to federal agents stepping up immigration enforcement throughout California, there’s little cities can do to fight back.
Immigrant communities have been crying out about a flood of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that have been conducting at-large operations throughout the Central Valley’s farming towns.
ICE officials have said the enforcement comes in direct response to California’s sanctuary state laws, which make it more difficult for local law enforcement to work with ICE agents.
That enforcement came to a head last month when Santos Hilario Garcia, 35, and Marcelina Garcia Profecto, 33, died after crashing their car March 13 while being pursued by federal agents in Delano. They left behind six children.
Now the city’s police department, reporting inconsistencies between ICE’s account of the incident and video surveillance, has asked the Kern County District Attorney’s office to review the case. Delano PD is seeking charges to be filed against the agents for giving false information to their department about the collision.
ICE agents told Delano PD that they didn’t give chase, and found the Garcia’s car overturned blocks away. Surveillance footage showed agents had their emergency lights activated, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Kern County District Attorney’s office confirmed Thursday it received the report and began reviewing the files.
ICE officials said they, too, are reviewing the incident, but that additional details are not available to be released.
"However, it should be noted that three separate witnesses reported to the Delano PD that they did not observe a vehicle pursuing the vehicle involved in the accident," ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said. "The unfortunate outcome of the decision made by the vehicle driver to erratically evade ICE officers is why ICE encourages all of those we encounter to comply with officers’ commands in order to ensure our ability to carry out our mission as safely as possible.”
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which has been critical of ICE's tactics across the state, said it was deeply concerned about reports of agents lying to Delano PD.
“This incident is part of a larger pattern of duplicitous behavior by ICE agents in Kern County — including conducting ruses and impersonating police officers — that undermine public safety and trust, and unnecessarily put California residents at risk," said ACLU Foundation of Southern California Senior Staff Attorney Michael Kaufman. "No law enforcement agency, including ICE, is above the law.”
Delano City Councilman Joe Aguirre described the district attorney's review as a starting point to find justice for Garcia and Garcia Profecto.
“(For) the family that just lost their parents, I see it as a first step of bringing justice to them. This was a total loss and unnecessary tragic death that was uncalled for,” Aguirre said. “Obviously, there’s more research and investigation that needs to take place.”
Aguirre acknowledged that there’s little local jurisdictions like his can do to fight back against an increase in federal agents patrolling neighborhoods, but said that Delano PD’s decision to pursue charges sends a strong message to ICE.
“It definitely sends a signal that we’re going to be watching very carefully, and we won’t sit back and allow outside agents to come and roll through our town and cause havoc in our city,” Aguirre said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Delano Councilwoman Grace Vallejo said the review sends the message that Delano will follow the law, “regardless of who it is.”
False information was given to police officers, Vallejo said. Whoever gave that false information should be charged, and “in this case, the persons who broke the law were ICE agents, so we’re doing what we’re supposed to do — and we’ll always do it,” Vallejo said.
Aguirre and Vallejo said they were unsure if the review would draw retaliation from ICE in the form of an even stronger presence in their community. ICE Director Thomas Homan warned California last year to “hang on tight” before deploying more agents to the state in response to sanctuary state policies, which President Trump has criticized.
“Will this bring something down on us? I can’t say,” Vallejo said. “But then again, you never know what the existing federal administration will do.”