Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said Thursday he still does not believe enforcing immigration laws is part of his department’s mandate.
Jordan made his remarks just hours after President Donald Trump issued an executive order instructing his Secretary of Homeland Security to engage local law enforcement agencies across the nation about enforcing federal immigration laws.
Though the executive order does not guarantee that Tulsa police officers will be asked to enforce immigration laws, many fear it could create that possibility.
But Jordan, as he did several weeks ago, insisted Thursday that enforcement of immigration laws is not part of his department’s duties.
Earlier in the month, Jordan had told The Frontier that TPD wasn’t “in the business of enforcing federal immigration laws.”
“I don’t want anyone to be a crime victim in this city and be afraid to call the police,” Jordan said at the time.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum weighed in on Facebook early Thursday, making a post that said “legal and policing experts” agreed that the executive order should not affect “practices already in place.”
“I’ve heard from many in our city with questions about yesterday’s presidential executive order relative to immigration and local law enforcement. I’ve consulted our legal and policing experts at the city of Tulsa, and all are in agreement that this order does not call for a change in any of the practices already in place here,” Bynum said. “As your mayor, it is so important to me that law-abiding Tulsans know they can call our police when they need help. I want our immigrant community in Tulsa to feel safe, feel welcome, and feel this is a place of opportunity for future generations of their families. That is the kind of city we are focused on building.”
Carl Rusnok, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Central Region, said Thursday that it’s too early to know how the executive order will affect ICE programs
“These executive actions are being reviewed,” Rusnok said. “Less than 24 hours after these actions were signed, it would be extremely premature for me to guess.”
The executive order, one of several Trump has signed in his short time as president, is meant to accomplish several things, including ramping up efforts to detain and deport immigrants who are in the country illegally, and punishing cities that refuse to cooperate in that process.
Although TPD has long avoided taking any part in the deportation process, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office became part of the 287(g) program nearly a decade ago. Once arrested, inmates here are asked during the booking process what country they were born in. That line of questioning can begin the process of identifying, detaining and ultimately deporting someone here illegally.
During last year’s campaign for sheriff, Sheriff Vic Regalado was criticized for a television commercial advertising his tough stance on immigration. Local groups decried the commercial as being threatening to all Hispanics. Regalado himself has Hispanic roots. He eventually held a meeting with about 60 or 70 people, mostly Hispanics, at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in an attempt to assuage those fears.
Nevertheless, TCSO does have select deputies at the Tulsa Jail working under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement supervision.
Despite the executive order, several mayors across the country, including mayors in Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and New York City, have said they will still decline to follow Trump’s edict.
What punishments they may eventually face are somewhat unclear. Trump’s order states: “As soon as practicable, and by no later than one year after the date of this order” that fines and penalties could be assessed to “those who facilitate (the) presence (of illegal immigrants) in the United States.”
In interviews, Trump has promised to pull federal funding from remaining “sanctuary cities” – those that do not comply with federal immigration laws – which could impact Tulsans in any number of ways. For instance, TPD is currently outfitting their patrol officers with body-worn cameras purchased, in part, through a Department of Justice grant. That grant could theoretically be pulled as part of Trump’s proposed penalties.
It’s unclear at what point mayors will be forced to make a decision on whether to cooperate with the federal government on enforcing immigration laws . Section 8 (a) of the executive order states that the Department of Homeland Security will begin “immediately” to contact governors and municipalities to begin drafting them into 287(g) agreements.
Local police already stretched thin
Tulsa police officers have long said they are uninterested in a person’s immigration status, and as Jordan told The Frontier earlier this month, they do not want to potentially limit a person’s contact with police over fears of deportation.
But there could be other issues as well. TPD has groused for years about their officers being stretched thin. In fact, a study presented to the City Council last year that called for the hiring of an additional 200-or-so more officers played a key role in tens of millions of tax dollars being set aside for TPD under the Vision Tulsa tax extension.
But those additional officers have not yet been hired, and adding immigration duties may not be well-received by an already overextended police force.
Tulsa reacts to Trump’s executive orders
A local event scheduled for Friday evening is intended to keep Tulsa from becoming “divided” in the wake of Trump’s executive orders, its creator said.
Jose Vega said the event, entitled “No Walls,” will be a march, beginning in the Brady District, crossing the Cincinnati Street bridge and ending at City Hall, a “symbolic gesture that Tulsa builds bridges, not walls,” he said.
“It breaks my heart that the executive order is attacking many of my family and friends where they currently live in sanctuary cities,” Vega said. “I’ve helped many Venezuelan and Honduran people seek political refuge. And for (Trump) to attack refugees is another attack on my community.”
Trump’s executive order was met with skepticism by local city councilors reached by The Frontier.
Councilor David Patrick, whose district stretches into east Tulsa, an area of large hispanic growth, said he had yet to read Trump’s executive order, but stressed that should TPD be asked to do work behalf of the federal government, the city would need to be reimbursed for that work.
“I would want to know all the details,” Patrick said. Are they going to kick in any money or are they just going to req this for us to do without any kind of financial support.”
District 4 City Councilor Blake Ewing said “I don’t support Tulsa Police Department doing any special work outside of their current scope, even if it’s for the president of the United States.”