In mid-2016, a day before the Oakland, Calif., police chief resigned amid scandal, he signed off on an agreement allowing the city’s police officers to partner with federal immigration officials in investigations involving human trafficking, narcotics smuggling, and gang activity.
A year later, though, Donald Trump was president, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was under fire, and advocates urged officials in Oakland — a “sanctuary city,” similar to Philadelphia — to cancel the arrangement for fear that it led to data-sharing with ICE and undermined immigrants’ trust in police.
Defending the agreement was Danielle Outlaw, then the deputy chief of police in Oakland. She told a city committee in 2017 that although the police valued the city’s policy to not cooperate with ICE on immigration enforcement, their partnership was with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), an arm of ICE separate from the agency’s enforcement and deportation operations. The agreement, Outlaw said, allowed her department “to have that federal arm and to have that transnational piece that we just, as a local municipal agency, do not have access to.”
Her defense didn’t matter in the end. Oakland officials rescinded the agreement.
On Tuesday, Outlaw was named the next commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, which, like the Oakland police — and Oregon, where Outlaw ran the Portland Police Bureau beginning in late 2017 — does not comply with ICE requests to detain undocumented immigrants without a signed judicial arrest warrant as part of its status as a sanctuary city.
Although Outlaw defended the Oakland agreement with ICE in 2017, advocates for rescinding it didn’t accuse the department of violating sanctuary policy.
Philadelphia, which has been described as one of the most “determined” sanctuary cities, has been proactive in severing ties with ICE. Still, police here also have a “longtime working relationship with ICE,” similar to Oakland’s former partnership, where several officers can be designated to conduct narcotics investigations, city spokesperson Deana Gamble said. The city doesn’t expect that arrangement to change.
She added that HSI is “completely separate and apart from immigration enforcement.” Earlier this year, HSI hosted a joint news conference with local law enforcement officials to announce the seizure of more than a billion dollars’ worth of cocaine at the Port of Philadelphia in one of the largest drug busts in U.S. history.
“Philadelphia’s immigration policy is set by the mayor, not the police commissioner," Gamble said. "Our police department will never be an extension of ICE, and Commissioner Outlaw was fully aware of our position when she accepted this important role.”
Outlaw declined to comment further through a city spokesperson.
Since those 2017 comments, Outlaw has taken other steps to limit cooperation with ICE and has publicly said she doesn’t believe local police resources should be prioritized on immigration enforcement.
About 10 months after Outlaw took over the Portland department, police cleared out an encampment of Occupy ICE protesters who had for five weeks camped outside an ICE office in the city. (A similar sweep took place in Philadelphia last year.) Outlaw spoke to a local conservative talk radio host about the clearing, saying that it was her idea and that she had the mayor’s support.
Host Lars Larson then pressed her on Oregon’s sanctuary policy, asking whether she planned to vote in favor of a ballot measure that would have eliminated it. Outlaw said: “I’ll leave the politics to the politicians," adding, “My focus and my intention is on behaviors. I don’t care where you came from.” (The ballot measure failed.)
The host then asked whether police should cooperate with federal authorities to help deport an undocumented immigrant who had committed a crime.
“I don’t choose to prioritize my time or my resources in that way,” she said.
Months later, in July 2019, Outlaw announced that the Portland Police Bureau would not cooperate with any federal agencies working on raids that Trump had announced would result in mass arrests of migrants, according to the Portland Oregonian.
“Now more than ever, it is important to understand and recognize the uncertainty and fear for many in our immigrant communities, not just around immigration enforcement efforts, but also hate crimes,” Outlaw said at the time. “Members of the Police Bureau continue our outreach efforts to build relationships, especially in communities that may be distrustful of police.”
And in September, Outlaw announced that Portland police had terminated part of a contract that allowed ICE agents to train at their facilities, including using classroom space and a firing range. According to the Oregonian, Outlaw announced the city would halt the 2018 contract after pressure from advocacy groups. She called the facility-sharing “a mistake” made due to oversight during the contract approval process.
”The use of PPB’s training facility by other law enforcement agencies should be consistent with city values,” she said.
Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city was solidified this year when a federal appeals court sided with the city in a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration, which had vowed to withhold some federal funds from jurisdictions that did not cooperate with ICE. Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration argued the city isn’t part of the federal immigration-enforcement apparatus.
As part of that case, one of Outlaw’s predecessors, former Police Commissioner Richard Ross, testified, saying the Police Department builds trust on the fact that it doesn’t store data on immigration status or share information with ICE.
“There’s no way in the world you’d want to come forward as a source of information or criminal activity if you learned you would be deported,” Ross said.