Berkeley Looks to Ban Contracts With Immigrant Database Builders

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By Joyce E. Cutler

Berkeley, Calif., is considering shutting out of city contracts companies that help federal immigration officials create databases and registries used to target immigrants and religious minorities.

The Sanctuary City Contracting and Investment Ordinance, to be taken up by the City Council April 3, wouldn’t allow contracts with any vendor that’s working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to create a database that could be used to identify and round up immigrants. It would also prohibit city investments in such vendors.

“We’re proposing that we should avoid the companies that are helping ICE harass innocent immigrants,” Councilmember Kriss Worthington (D) told Bloomberg Law.

The Berkeley ordinance comes amid a national debate about how and to what extent new immigrants to the U.S. should be vetted and how visas should be granted. Civil liberties and immigrants rights groups have raised concerns that the country may be going too far and becoming too invasive in targeting individuals for more intensive and invasive screening under the banner of national security.

The proposed ordinance, which specifically names IBM Inc., Palantir Technologies Inc., and LexisNexis as working with ICE, builds on Berkeley’s decision last year to bar contractors that work on any U.S.-Mexico border wall from future business with the city.

Berkeley was a sanctuary city before anyone knew what a sanctuary city is, Worthington said March 28.

Berkeley would be barred under the proposed ordinance from making “any investment in stocks, bonds, securities, or other obligations issued by any provider of Data Broker or Extreme Vetting services to ICE.”

The city, which receives pension and other employee benefits through the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, also would adopt a plan with respect to pension fund investments.

Councilmembers will consider the proposal April 3 and come up with language to send to the city’s Peace & Justice Commission for it to research and consider how to implement a ban, a process Worthington expects will take several months.

The proposed Berkeley law said companies are already helping the government in data mining or have showed interest in the extreme vetting initiative.

Companies named in the proposed ordinance either declined comment or couldn’t be reached for comment.

Vetting Process

ICE expects to release April 11 a request for proposal for a $100 million contract to support a vetting program to ensure nonimmigrant visa applicants comply with terms of admission to the U.S.

ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, held meetings in July for potential bidders to provide data broker, social media threat modeling, and extreme vetting services. The contract is for a service that “automates, centralizes and streamlines the current manual vetting process while simultaneously making determinations via automation if the data retrieved is actionable.”

“The request for information on this initiative was simply that—an opportunity to gather information from industry professionals and other government agencies on current technological capabilities to determine the best way forward,” ICE said in a statement emailed to Bloomberg Law March 30.

The move stems from the Trump administration’s January 2017 executive order to develop “a uniform screening standard and procedure,” including ways to evaluate “the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest; and a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.”

“This initiative is tailor-made for discrimination,” a coalition of 56 technology, human rights and civil rights, and privacy organizations said in a Nov. 16 letter opposing ICE’s proposed initiative.

The State Department in a March 30 Federal Register posting said it’s revising the immigrant visa collection to require applicants to provide identifiers used on social media platforms and telephone numbers and email addresses used in the past five years.

No Quick Turnaround

Berkeley’s Peace & Justice Commission members research, debate, and discuss editorial changes before voting on a measure, which takes about eight weeks, Worthington said. The measure then heads to the city manager for a report or alternative recommendation. The recommendations then return to the council. “So it often takes six months to a year from the date the City Council votes to refer something,” he said.

As with the construction and contracting ordinance approved last year, contractors would have to certify they aren’t providing such services to the federal government in order to win Berkeley’s business.

Very few companies were involved in the wall contractor ban, “and it was a relatively simple process for that one” for the Peace & Justice Commission to review, Worthington said. “For some reason with this one, their first thought when they looked at it is it’s at least two or three times more complicated than the border wall one” and will take longer to review.

“There’s a tiny minority in Berkeley who think we should do nothing but potholes and local things, but it’s an established tradition in Berkeley,” Worthington said. “Some people say we have our own foreign policy.”

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