Police Chief Max Bosel promised a packed room at the Mountain View Day Worker Center on Jan. 9 that local law enforcement would not cooperate with federal immigration agents. It was the latest in a string of pledges from local officials they would take no part in any effort by the incoming Donald Trump administration to crack down on undocumented residents.
"My responsibility is the safety of the Mountain View community," Bosel said. "It does us no good to have you fearful that you'll be deported if you call the police."
Nevertheless, several people conspicuously exited the room as soon as the police chief arrived.
The police chief was the special guest at an event organized by the Day Worker Center to alleviate some of the fears in the local Latino community that have heightened since Donald Trump was elected president. Among his campaign promises, the incoming president has pledged to immediately deport up to 3 million undocumented immigrants who have criminal records. Exactly how this will be carried out remains unclear.
Whatever the new administration is mulling, it has already prompted a backlash in the Bay Area. Last month, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved plans to provide legal services and representation for undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
More locally, Mountain View police officials emphasize they don't ask about a person's immigration status when someone calls 911 for help. For the most part, immigration status is not considered probable cause for local police officers to detain or arrest an individual, except for special crimes such as drug smuggling or terrorism.
Department policies explicitly call for officers not to participate in sweeps of undocumented residents; however, they can provide support services such as traffic control during a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations, if requested. If an officer arrests someone suspected of being in the country illegally, the officer can alert ICE depending on the seriousness of the offense, as well as other factors.
Both Bosel and organizers with the Day Worker Center agreed the talk would be a good idea, in order to assuage fears following the election, said Sgt. Armando Espitia, who serves also serves as a board member for the Day Worker Center.
"It's good that we have open communication," he said. "This all has to do with the politics of the election and with some of the claims being made by some of the participants."
In a question-and-answer session, Bosel was asked about police-worn body cameras and the growing number of people in Mountain View living out of their vehicles. The car encampments were a difficult issue, the police chief admitted, because they are people trying to eek out a living, but they tended to generate garbage and code violations. For now, his officers are enforcing a 72-hour limit on cars parking in one spot, but they don't patrol that frequently, he said.
For many in attendance, the "elephant in the room" was the concern that police engage in racial profiling, said Cornell Fowler, who was in the audience and works at the center. He cited his own experience of being stopped by officers while riding his bike on Rengstorff Avenue.
Bosel described such an encounter as a casual stop, but he said police officers had no authority to detain him if he didn't want to talk with them. He noted that his officers were being trained on so-called "fair and impartial" policing standards meant to prevent discrimination.
For the most part, Fowler said he was impressed by the chief's response. The talk "calmed a lot of nerves" among the community, he said.
"When someone like Trump gets elected, rumors fly, especially among the Hispanic community," he said. "If the police chief's purpose was to let the workers know he isn't their enemy, then I think he succeeded."