The nation’s top immigration cop took aim at sanctuary cities like Sacramento on Tuesday, saying in a televised interview that politicians who support limiting cooperation with federal deportations might belong in handcuffs themselves.
“This isn’t the America I grew up in. We’ve got to take these sanctuary cities on. We’ve got to take them to court and we’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes,” said Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, during a Fox News appearance.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, whose city last year strengthened its position as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, was defiant in his response on Wednesday.
“They certainly know where to find me,” Steinberg said.
On Jan. 1, California enacted Senate Bill 54, a measure passed last year that limits how law enforcement agencies can interact with federal immigration authorities – the topic of Homan’s television appearance. Cities like Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles already had policies in place that limited law enforcement cooperation with immigration authorities, and the ICE director singled out local and state leaders of sanctuary locales as accountable for crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in their areas.
Despite the criticism, Steinberg reaffirmed the city’s commitment to being a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. He said Sacramento would “redouble our efforts” to protect the immigrant community, including possibly adding more money to a legal defense fund for undocumented residents.
The Sacramento City Council in May voted to set aside $300,000 for legal, educational and faith-based nonprofits to help undocumented immigrants facing deportation and advise them of their legal rights. Immigrants with violent criminal records are not eligible for aid.
The city also bolstered its sanctuary status last year by making it illegal for city employees – including police – to inquire unnecessarily about immigration status. Police can still investigate crimes and can work with federal authorities on joint investigations.
About 49,000 Sacramento residents are not U.S. citizens, including about 4,100 children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. How many are here illegally is unknown. The Census Bureau does not ask about legal status.
“As I’ve always said, there’s only one way to deal with bullies, and that is to stand your ground and stand with the people, and that’s what we’ll continue to do in Sacramento,” Steinberg said. “Is there a shred of civility, dignity or intelligence left in this president or in this administration?”
Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna also expressed dismay at Homan’s comments.
“I think it’s unfortunate that there seems to be an ICE agent (Homan) that seems to be foaming at the mouth about this,” Serna said.
Serna has been critical of a contract between the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department and ICE. The contract permits the sheriff to house about 170 undocumented immigrants at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center near Elk Grove, said Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton, and brings in about $5 million annually.
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department has cooperated with ICE in the past. Hampton said Wednesday that Sheriff Scott Jones remained opposed to California’s sanctuary law but was adhering to the new guidelines, though Jones has previously spoken forcefully against sanctuary status and last summer hosted Homan at a town hall in Sacramento to oppose SB 54 and clarify how federal authorities conducted enforcement actions.
Homan said at the time that allowing federal authorities the information and ability to arrest undocumented immigrants inside of jails meant that agents were not making arrests in public places such as schools – a benefit for the undocumented community. Homan also said during the Fox interview that he’s sending more immigration agents to California and will increase deportations from the state in the wake of it becoming the nation’s first sanctuary state.
“California better hold on tight,” said Homan. “We’re going to be all over the place, and we are going to enforce the law without apology.”
Despite the rhetoric, ICE arrested and deported far fewer undocumented immigrants in its San Francisco region – an area that runs from Bakersfield to the Oregon border – last year than it had in some recent years. But it picked up more people without criminal records than the previous year.
In 2017, federal figures show ICE detained 7,231 people in its San Francisco region, 6,046 of whom had criminal records – about 84 percent of those arrested.
In 2016, 93 percent of the 6,651 people arrested in the area by ICE had criminal records.
Those overall numbers are far lower than some years of the Obama administration. In fiscal year 2014, ICE arrested more than 10,000 people, only 78 percent with criminal records. In fiscal year 2013, more than 11,500 undocumented people were arrested, with 72 percent having criminal backgrounds, according to ICE.
Homan said sanctuary locations are responsible for “a victimization of the American community” and sanctuary policies release dangerous criminals back into communities.
He also said President Donald Trump feels the same way.
“Absolutely he does,” Homan said. “The president is totally against sanctuary cities. He knows as well as I do that people are dying. People are being victimized by illegal aliens in this country and there’s certain sanctuary cities that don’t want to cooperate with us.”
Steinberg called Homan’s comments “absurd. Ridiculous. Trumpian.”