Fear is growing in immigrant communities that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is getting ready to launch massive raids across California — a threat that activists and politicians say is retaliation against the Golden State’s bold “sanctuary” policies.
ICE director Thomas Homan recently told Fox News that the agency will significantly increase enforcement across the state and warned California to “hold on tight.” And a report by the San Francisco Chronicle this week said ICE is planning raids targeting Northern California cities, with the goal of arresting more than 1,500 immigrants.
Advocates say they’re prepared for the crackdowns, with hundreds of Bay Area volunteers training to act as “first responders” at homes and workplaces where the raids are expected to take place.
“We kind of knew it was coming already,” said Jesus Ruiz, an organizer with San Jose-based People Acting in Community Together, or PACT.
ICE spokesman James Schwab on Wednesday declined to comment, saying that the agency does not release information on “future enforcement activities.”
STATE VS. FEDS
The raids would again pit left-leaning California against U.S. immigration officials intent on doubling down on illegal immigration and could be the first big test of the state’s new sanctuary legislation. California became the first “sanctuary state” in the country Jan. 1 when it implemented Senate Bill 54, a measure aimed at preventing law enforcement officers from helping to carry out Trump’s promised crackdown on illegal immigration.
The bill limits communication between California police officers and federal immigration agents about people detained by police or in jail awaiting trial. Exceptions include those who have been convicted of serious crimes within the past 15 years and suspects in serious crimes punishable with prison time for which a judge has found probable cause. It also prohibits California officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.
PACT, a grassroots advocacy organization, is refining its Rapid Response Network, a team of about 700 U.S. citizen volunteers trained to respond to ICE sightings across Santa Clara County. While they don’t interfere with enforcement operations or interact with ICE agents, the volunteers will act as an extra set of eyes during enforcement operations, Ruiz said.
The network received alerts last week when agents descended on 7-Eleven stores in Santa Clara as part of a national sting targeting undocumented workers within the franchise.
“They’re there to be legal observers — to make sure … that constitutional rights are not being violated,” Ruiz said.
He said the notion that California’s sanctuary bill makes cities unsafe is a false narrative that ICE has created.“SB 54 does not prevent ICE from doing its work,” he said. “It just prevents ICE from arresting somebody or detaining somebody without a warrant — that’s due process.”
But Homan disputes that notion.
“What they have done is force my officers to arrest dangerous criminals on their turf, in their homes, and their places of business, rather than arresting them in the safety and security of a county jail,” the ICE director told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on Jan. 2. “It’s ridiculous to knowingly and intentionally put law enforcement at risk.”
Bill Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, said he’s expected the ICE raids would happen for a while, particularly in high-profile sanctuary jurisdictions like San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.
“They’ve been criticizing sanctuary jurisdictions since Day One,” he said of Trump administration officials. “We’ve been waiting for more raids and them wanting to make an example of those jurisdictions.”
Hing said ICE agents will likely go after undocumented immigrants who have missed scheduled deportation hearings, searching their homes and places of employment.
“When they’re there, they’re going to ask everybody else for their documents — the so-called collateral arrests,” he said. “It might get ugly.”
“Collateral arrests” are a controversial practice in which ICE, while attempting to apprehend undocumented immigrants with criminal records, sweep up other undocumented residents such as family members or co-workers at the same location.
While SB 54 generally prohibits law enforcement from cooperating with ICE officials, Hing said some police departments might feel pressured to work with agents during raids.
The Oakland City Council on Tuesday voted to formally end all law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials. A spokeswoman for the city’s police department said Chief Anne Kirkpatrick “supports and values Oakland as a sanctuary city.”
The reports of imminent raids drew swift and angry responses from California lawmakers Wednesday, who called the plans retaliatory and said they would break apart families.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, said Homan’s enforcement warnings were “over the top” and “exhibited a pretty strong misunderstanding of the relationship between federal and state governments.”
“He obviously had not familiarized himself with what California actually did, which was in no way out of compliance with federal law,” said Lofgren, the ranking Democrat on the House’s Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called ICE’s plans “shameful” and “pure malice.”
“Hard-working immigrants will be targeted and their families torn apart, simply for being Californians,” Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in a statement. “This vast immigration dragnet is purpose-built to instill fear in our communities. These raids will certainly not make Americans safer.”
California Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Homan Wednesday expressing concern that “rather than focusing efforts on violent criminals, raids carried out in neighborhoods and workplaces could result in the deportation of individuals who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara, said the administration is targeting immigrants to make a political point.
“Immigrants are the backbone of our country, and such raids will only incite fear in our communities and undermine public safety,’ he said in a statement. “We must stand up for their rights.”