Groups seeking a Welcoming City ordinance in Bloomington are expressing concern at the level of communication between Bloomington Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Illinois People’s Action and the Keep Families Together Coalition point to nearly 200 pages of emails between the two agencies over the last three years. IPA and the ACLU obtained the emails under a Freedom of Information Act request. You can download the 2015, 2016, and 2017 emails as PDFs.
“There was a fairly collegial environment of exchanges back and forth between the Bloomington department and these ICE agents," said Tom Cullen of the ACLU.
Response times on the emails are sometimes within minutes. Representatives of the two agencies make personal inquiries. There is even a request for a T-shirt.
Don Carlson of IPA said four emails, in particular, are alarming because non-criminal matter information was provided to ICE. He said the tone of the exchanges is revealing.
“This is the first time we have clear evidence and proof that there is clear cooperation and communication between BPD and ICE,” said Carlson.
One instance involved a 2015 query to ICE over a missing person BPD was trying to locate. Another in 2017 involved a traffic stop and search in which no contraband was found. A third was a request from ICE to BPD in 2016 for current address information, and the fourth involved a university student who allegedly violated the terms of his student visa by transferring to another institution in his first semester. A tipster also notified BPD that person was working in a restaurant and being paid under the table.
“When we checked we found that there were four lives and four families that were impacted not just yesterday or the day before but going back as far as 2015,” Carlson said.
IPA and the ACLU say this is no surprise to the immigrant community, and that it's confirmation and an argument for an ordinance limiting communication between ICE and BPD.
Covered by the Trust Act?
The Illinois Trust Act, passed last year, says people cannot be arrested solely based on their immigration status. The coalition backing the Welcoming City ordinance has said that law does not go far enough to address the climate of fear among the immigrant community regarding police and ICE.
“We want to create trust between the immigrant community and police so they can share information without the anxiety that if I share information, that if I talk to the cop, is that going to get to ICE and is ICE going to get to me,” said Carlson.
Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner noted that only a small portion of the total batch of emails raises concern for the coalition.
But the Keep Families Together Coalition said those are evidence of something larger.
“Personnel changes happen all the time and when there is that collegial atmosphere that develops among any working group of human beings they would be better served by having a clear bright line from the top down saying this is something you cannot do,” said Cullen.
Carlson said going public with the emails is in part to address a recent request by five Bloomington City Council members to remove the ordinance issue from Monday's agenda.
“Let’s remember how we got here. We got here because the Bloomington Police chief said none of this communication ever took place. And five members of the city council said we’re not engaged with that. That’s not who we are, that’s not what we do. But the fact of the matter is over the last three years, that’s exactly what we have been doing,” said Carlson.
Defending Police Conduct
Video: Chief Heffner speaks at the Dec. 18 Bloomington City Council meeting:
During a December meeting at the BCPA, Chief Brendan Heffner said about ICE that “we’re not sending them to people to be deported.”
In at least one of the emails, a Bloomington Police intelligence analyst asks an ICE special agent about someone possibly involved in criminal activity: "I'm guessing he is out of reach for you?"
Heffner said he does not believe that conflicts with what he said in the December meeting.
“I referred to it then as well. I was talking about officers out on patrol contacting ICE or doing that on a regular basis when they are asking people for drivers’ licenses or proof of insurance,” said Heffner.
“I also made it very clear that when we are working cases and we need information from them as a resource we would reach out to them and they do reach out to us,” said Heffner.
Heffner said despite questions about ICE interest in someone from Bloomington, there is nothing in the emails that indicates Bloomington Police want someone deported.
“ICE is not just for deportation purposes. They are part of the Marshal's task force. They have people in the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) task force and they might want to open up their own investigations,” said Heffner.
Heffner said the conduct of people in his department going back several years still meets current standards. He said only one email involving a request for information on a domestic violence incident might violate the recent Trust Act, and that goes back to 2015.
“People are trying to insinuate a lot of things. You can insinuate anything you want. You have to prove something,” said Heffner.
IPA objects to low-level inquiries. But Heffner said that’s the wrong way to look at it.
“It could be something serious. Many misdemeanors, many small things have evolved into something bigger. When I worked with State Police I worked on a drug interdiction unit. There were plenty of cars and trucks that were stopped and searched because of information that was given to us that they were possibly involved in narcotics trafficking. Just because they didn’t have it then, they could have it later. That information is used later and the pieces are being put together,” said Heffner.
“It’s about policies and either the city is going to stand up and say we are going to protect all immigrants or it’s not. And right now, the status quo is it doesn’t,” said Carlson.
Carlson and Cullen said they have also started the FOIA process with Normal, though that is in its preliminary stages.
Two aldermen contacted for this story said they have not yet had adequate time to review the emails and were unable to give a meaningful comment. Mayor Tari Renner told GLT he finds the emails solid evidence of a need for some sort of ordinance reassuring the immigrant community.
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