U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 498 people nationwide this week in what appears to be a shift in policy toward targeting cities and counties that refuse to cooperate with the agency.
Operation Safe Cities focused on regions where ICE officers are denied access to jails or prisons, and officials refuse agency requests to hold people facing deportation past their release dates so that agents can take custody.
ICE arrested 101 people in Los Angeles, 21 in Santa Clara County and six in San Francisco during the four-day operation, according to spokeswoman Lori Haley.
“This particular operation targeted these sanctuary cities,” Haley said, using a catch-all term to describe localities that have varying laws prohibiting cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. “The problem is that when we are denied access to the jails and we don’t receive notification of dangerous criminal aliens and they’re released into the community, we have to dedicate more of our resources to go out and conduct at-large arrests.”
ICE reports agents also rounded up 28 people in Baltimore; 30 in Cook County, Illinois; 63 in Denver; 45 in New York; 107 in Philadelphia; 33 in Seattle; 14 in Washington, D.C.; and 50 people in the state of Massachusetts.
Of all those arrested nationally, 63 percent had criminal convictions in the U.S., the majority for driving under the influence, according to ICE. Others had broken immigration law, which is not a criminal offense.
People brought to the U.S. illegally as children who have applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were not targeted for arrest, according to federal immigration officials.
Immigration Advocates Skeptical of ICE 'Spin'
“The raids that happened these last couple of days appear to be a public relations move by ICE,” said Angela Chan, policy director at the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco. The message, she says, was “to try to scare cities to engage in immigration enforcement.”
Mary Small, with Detention Watch Network, said so-called sanctuary cities often have lower crime rates.
“ICE would have people believe that if your city dares to refuse to cooperate with ICE that you are at more risk. There’s no evidence to support that." Small said. “Overall, I think people in sanctuary cities are actually still better protected, but ICE does these really high-profile raids in those cities to make a point."
The most recent statistics from ICE show that arrests of unauthorized immigrants have climbed 37 percent nationally from January to June -- compared with the same period in 2016.
During that time, arrests climbed 10 percent in San Francisco.