Richfield police have withdrawn an invitation to have a federal immigration official speak at a planning meeting for this year's National Night Out event, following backlash from neighborhood leaders.
Mary Hogan, a community relations officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Minnesota, was to speak at a meeting between police and neighborhood block captains on July 24. Richfield Police Lt. Mike Flaherty said Thursday that Hogan was going to provide an "educational piece" about homeland security. An online police posting said she would not be discussing immigration policies.
But national outrage over the government's practice of separating children from parents who were illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as federal efforts to ramp up deportations, led Richfield police to question the wisdom of having an ICE officer making any kind of presentation now.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE among other agencies, has been under fire lately for its role in the border separations. The policy, implemented by the Trump administration in April, was reversed in an executive order signed Wednesday by the president.
Having Hogan at the upcoming meeting would be bad timing, Flaherty said. So the police department announced its decision to cancel her appearance in a Facebook post Wednesday morning. Another speaker has been chosen for the meeting.
"We started to recognize the fact that with everything going on nationally … maybe this isn't the best time right now," he said. "Emotions are high, it's a very sensitive topic nationally and in Richfield."
Strong community opinions on the meeting, voiced on Facebook by residents, "solidified our decision not to have this representative come in," he said.
Holly Rhodes, whose husband is a block captain in Richfield, shared a copy of the meeting's Facebook invitation. The topic for the presentation, according to the invitation, was "Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 101."
Hogan apparently was going to speak about Homeland Security investigations, enforcement and removal operations and programs at ICE, whose "function and services … [are] often misunderstood," the invitation said.
Rhodes said that critics of the invitation "absolutely blew this out of proportion."
"Nowhere in the document does it say that ICE is hosting this event," she said. "It's a disservice to the community … because ICE and Homeland Security cover a lot more than just immigration and the stuff that people are focusing on in the news this week."
Hogan joined ICE's St. Paul office in 2016 as part of an effort by the agency to improve outreach.
National Night Out, known as Night to Unite in Richfield, is an annual neighborhood event held to connect public safety officers and residents. About 160 blocks in Richfield plan to hold street parties for this year's event on Aug. 7.
Block captains are residents who participate in the city's Neighborhood Crime Watch program and help organize block parties for Night to Unite. They typically meet with the police department a couple of times a year.
Richfield police practice impartial policing and do not enforce federal law, Flaherty said.