Two unnamed ICE officials told the Washington Post that the increase in raids were more about politics than enforcement, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly condemned so-called sanctuary cities.
In the final weeks before Election Day, the Trump administration has ramped up arrests and deportations targeting so-called sanctuary cities. Over the span of six days in early October, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 172 people in six sanctuary cities, according to the agency.
Two unnamed ICE officials told the Washington Post that the increase in raids were more about politics than enforcement, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly condemned cities that allow local law enforcement agencies to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials. The leaders of these “sanctuary cities” say they have a responsibility to protect their immigrant citizens, many of whom they believe have been unfairly targeted for deportation.
According to the ICE statement, more than 80% percent of those arrested in the recent raids “had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges.” The six recently targeted cities in what’s been referred to as the “sanctuary op,” according to the Post, were Seattle, Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC.
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But Andrea Flores, deputy director of policy at the American Civil Liberties Union, pointed out that these “criminal convictions” and “criminal charges” are often for nonviolent offenses or violating US immigration law—such as crossing the border without proper documentation or overstaying their visas.
“What we know so far is that ICE has been incredibly dishonest in its reporting of who is being swept up in these raids,” Flores told COURIER. “So we have reason to believe that some of the people being arrested are, in fact, very low offenses. Their greatest violation could be a traffic sign.”
Flores added that ICE has even arrested and unlawfully detained US citizens during their sweeps. In 2018, the Los Angeles Times discovered ICE “repeatedly” targeted US citizens for deportations by error. From 2012 to 2018, nearly 1,500 US citizens were mistakenly arrested and detained by ICE.
“The Department will continue to carry out lawful enforcement actions in order to keep our communities safe, regardless of whether or not we have cooperation from state and local officials,” said Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in a statement.
The current ICE action plan represents two themes touted throughout Trump’s re-election campaign—a crackdown on immigration and his efforts to villainize Democrat leaders for working to protect their immigrant community members.
Recently, ICE launched a billboard campaign in Pennsylvania, a critical swing state, that spotlights “at-large immigration violators.” The billboards were just a small component of ICE’s and DHS’s marketing ploy—including speeches, news conferences, and other ads—to push forward the message that immigrants are dangerous.
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Part of the goal also appears to be leveling criticism at sanctuary policies. “This campaign would be entirely unnecessary if local leaders would do their jobs and protect their communities by partnering with federal law enforcement,” Wolf said during a news conference in Philadelphia on Friday.
“What we’re seeing right now is what we have been seeing since Trump ran for president in 2016, which is an increased focus on immigrants as being political targets,” Flores said. “He’s been scapegoating immigrants for four years, and so what he’s doing right now is a continuation of increasing enforcement efforts to suggest that—once again—immigrants need to be arrested right now to either make our nation safer.”
The latest action plan is just the most recent example of the Trump administration’s increased immigration enforcement. In September, ICE made more than 2,000 arrests within a six-week operation. Although the agency said it was targeting undocumented immigrants with a criminal history, it also arrested those with a clean and non-violent history.
In fact, about 52% of immigrants removed from the US during the first five months of 2020 had no criminal history, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. That represents a 40% increase from 2017, 2018, and 2019.
The facts also don’t side with the Trump administration’s xenophobic messaging. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based out of Washington, DC, found in numerous studies that immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes or enact violence than American-born people. In February 2018 (its most recent study), the Cato Institute found that in Texas, the criminal conviction rate of people born in the US was 56% higher than undocumented immigrants and 85% higher for documented immigrants. In that same year, four separate studies proved that undocumented immigration in cities does not increase violent crime, but rather decreases it.
“We’re seeing them pull out all stops to make Americans believe that immigrants are the threat when, in reality, we’ve never seen this administration focus on doing anything in this pandemic to keep us safer,” Flores said. “Instead, they keep targeting immigrants.”
But what about sanctuary cities: Do they allow violent crime to fester in large cities? The answer is no. Sanctuary cities are created to make life in cities safer for both immigrants—whether they may be documented or not—and US citizens, Flores said. The policies also offer opportunities to improve community relationships with immigrant communities.
“Sanctuary cities are meant to improve public safety. It allows immigrants—regardless of their immigration status—to feel safe knowing that whether they report a crime, serve witness to a crime, or are a victim of domestic violence, that they can inform law enforcement without being turned over to immigration authorities,” Flores said. “They are simply acting as citizens helping keep their city safe.”
More importantly, Flores continued, these raids are happening in the context of a pandemic. In other words, Trump is putting the lives of government workers and immigrants at risk for his political agenda. “When you’re doing immigration raids in communities, you’re discouraging people from doing the very thing that they need to do to stay safe—which is stay home or if they’re essential workers, go to work and protect themselves from this pandemic,” Flores said. “These raids are, once again, right before an election being used as part of the president’s law and order agenda.”