ICE Escalates War of Words With Oakland Mayor
By Hamed Aleaziz and Jenna Lyons
Federal officials and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf traded bitter accusations Wednesday over Schaaf's decision to alert the public about a multiday Northern California immigration sweep that the Trump administration launched to counter local sanctuary laws.
Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, compared the mayor's warning on Saturday night -- hours before ICE agents began knocking on doors and making arrests -- to a "gang lookout yelling 'police'" in an appearance on Fox News.
Schaaf responded, in a news conference and on radio, by assailing the administration's immigration crackdown as racist.
The war of words marked what could be a new low in the relationship between federal officials frustrated with sanctuary policies and liberal California leaders who have opposed President Trump's tightening of immigration and his assertions that undocumented people bring danger to the country.
While ICE arrested more than 150 undocumented immigrants in the first three days of this week's operation, Homan said, "There's 800 that we are unable to locate because of that warning, so that community is a lot less safe than it would have been."
Schaaf's warning "is no better than a gang lookout yelling 'police' when a police cruiser comes in the neighborhood, except she did it to the entire community," Homan said. "I'll say this to the mayor and every other politician that wants to vilify the men and women of ICE -- we are not going away, we are going to keep enforcing the law."
Schaaf made clear she wasn't backing down either. Speaking in her office, the mayor said she stood by her decision to reveal an operation she learned about from confidential "credible sources."
"I hope we take this moment to recognize that we have to fight against the racist myth that the Trump administration is trying to perpetuate -- that immigrants are dangerous criminals," Schaaf said. "There is nothing further from the truth. This is racist and it is false. Ample evidence shows that American-born citizens are actually more likely to commit crimes than immigrants.
"Just as I'm being criticized I'm also being thanked," the mayor said. "Thanked for standing up for our most vulnerable residents that often don't have a voice. I am hopeful that it gave comfort and security to many people in Oakland."
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Wednesday he was gathering more information on this week's ICE operation while encouraging immigrants, employers and others to know their rights.
"It's becoming sadly clearer that ICE is losing its focus on immigration enforcement," Becerra said. "Rather than focus on people who are dangerous criminals, we hear ICE may be terrorizing communities, including family members who are citizens."
ICE said Tuesday that roughly half of those arrested since Sunday in Northern California had criminal convictions, including for violent offenses including assault with a deadly weapon. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of San Francisco, seized upon that statistic to criticize the sweep, called Operation Keep Safe.
"This raid was intended solely to terrorize innocent immigrant families and instill fear in the hearts of our communities," Pelosi said, "not to keep Americans safe."
In downtown San Francisco, hundreds of protesters gathered Wednesday afternoon outside ICE's Northern California headquarters, chanting slogans and carrying signs that read "ICE out of SF" and "Undocumented and unafraid." San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell was among local politicians who attended the event to support advocates.
"It's ridiculous to have all these families broken apart," said Maribel Rodriguez, a 33-year-old San Francisco resident who listened to the speeches outside the ICE building on Sansome Street. "At the end of the day, family unity is what really matters, and it's heartbreaking to see families being taken apart."
The immigration law firm Pangea Legal Services said ICE had put "unnecessary barriers" between attorneys and those arrested, including not allowing lawyers to pass information to detainees who may want representation. Attorneys said people arrested were sent to a processing center in Stockton, even though individuals would typically be processed in San Francisco.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi also sent a letter to ICE on Wednesday demanding access to detainees.
James Schwab, an ICE spokesman in San Francisco, said in a statement that the agency "respects the rights of all aliens in removal proceedings to hire and consult with a lawyer of their choice and has policies in place to ensure that aliens may do so to the extent required by federal law, but a local politician has no authority to make 'demands' of the agency concerning such rights."
The Chronicle reported in January that federal officials were planning the operation. The Trump administration has repeatedly taken aim at sanctuary laws in California, which restrict cooperation between local authorities and ICE in an effort to convince undocumented immigrants they don't need to live in the shadows.
Homan has said that because of sanctuary laws, the agency would double down in the state and would have "no choice but to conduct at-large arrests" due to the agency's inability to pick up individuals with criminal records from local jails.
He has warned that ICE officers will inevitably come across other undocumented immigrants in the course of targeted actions and make what are known as collateral arrests. Arrests of undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions have risen sharply under the Trump administration.
(c)2018 the San Francisco Chronicle