Amid tensions over protest tactics, Birmingham City Council extends ICE agreement

Local News

FILE – In this July 8, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer looks on during an operation in Escondido, Calif. Pressure is mounting on the Trump administration to release people from immigration detention facilities where at least one detainee has already tested positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Birmingham City Council has passed a proposal allowing city police to extend an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

On Tuesday, eight of the council’s nine members voted to approve the ordinance, which was submitted by Mayor Randall Woodfin. Councilor Crystal Smitherman was not present for the vote.

The partnership between the police department and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division allows the agencies to designate certain Birmingham police officers as “Customs Officers authorized to enforce the full range of federal offenses, excluding administrative violations of immigration law.”

The proposal to extend the partnership for up to three additional years has faced public opposition since it was first introduced during a council meeting in November.

City officials have said the agreement will help curb crime in Birmingham, particularly crimes related to trafficking and other serious offenses. However, some opponents have said that the proposal still does not have the necessary protections for immigrants living in the city. Others have said that city police should not have an agreement with ICE at all, regardless of its language.

On Monday, opponents of the ICE agreement held a protest at City Hall expressing their concerns and urging the council to vote the measure down.

“Mayor Woodfin likes to say that he’s a progressive politician,” said Fabio Melo, an organizer with Adelante Alabama. “Progressive cities in this country are not signing agreements with ICE.”

After the City Hall protest, some opponents of the ICE ordinance went to the homes of Mayor Woodfin and several council members, knocking on their doors and leaving copies of a letter signed by a dozen community organizations opposed to extending the agreement.

Woodfin and multiple councilors addressed that direct action in the meeting.

“When you’re concerned about an issue… you have a right to come down here, and we welcome you with open arms,” Woodfin said. “Let me tell you what you do not have a right to. Don’t breach family. Don’t breach personal space.”

He then directly addressed the protestors.

“To the folk that came in my private yard, on my private property, on my steps, on my front porch,” Woodfin said, “Hear me clearly when I say this: Try Jesus. Don’t try me.”

Councilor LaTonya Tate was one of three council members who met with protesters of the ICE agreement on Monday. She said organizers may need to “pipe down” and change their strategy, arguing that their actions “tied her hands.”

“Y’all went out here and did a direct action that have now impeded the progress that would have gotten us closer to what you claim you were fighting for,” Tate said. “Think before you act. Organizing is strategic and sometimes we have to pipe down when we don’t want to pipe down. I know all so well.”

Councilor J.T. Moore also weighed in on the visits to officials’ doors.

“I do think that city business should take place at the city and not at people’s houses,” he said. “It concerns me, even if it’s just a knock on the door, that people felt comfortable coming to councilor’s homes.”

Fabio Melo addressed officials’ concerns upfront. After stating his address for the record, Melo turned to Councilor J.T. Moore, who recently wrapped up a successful campaign to secure his first term in office.

“I’m from Norwood,” he said. “J.T. Moore, you knocked on my door.”

“Yes sir,” Moore replied.

“That’s what we did last night.” Melo said. “We were canvassing as well. No harm to anybody. We’re just acting as people in the community.”

Melo said those opposed to the ICE agreement wanted to ensure council members were provided with a copy of the letter outlining their concerns.

“We do not need for the mayor to come after us, threatening us,” Melo said, turning to Woodfin. “You came to Adelante asking for our votes. Do you remember that? We remember that.”

Watch the full city council meeting below:

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