ICE Spokesman Quits to Protest Agency Claim That 800 Evaded Arrest After Schaaf Warning

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A man is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents early on Oct. 14, 2015, in Los Angeles. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Updated 12:15 a.m. Tuesday

The public affairs officer for the San Francisco field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement quit last week to protest Trump administration statements that 800 people evaded arrest because Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a public warning that an immigration sweep was imminent.

ICE arrested 232 people during the four-day sweep in late February, but federal officials have repeatedly stated that many others would likely have been caught if Schaaf had not warned the public a day before the operation began.

In a Feb. 27 press release, ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan wrote: “864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”

The next day on Fox News, 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."

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In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, public information officer James Schwab said he objected to that characterization.

Schwab said statements about immigrants evading arrest were misleading “because we were not ever going to be able to capture 100 percent of the target list” of roughly 1,000 undocumented immigrants in Northern California.

“I didn’t feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves against (Schaaf’s) actions was the way to go about it,” he told the Chronicle. “We were never going to pick up that many people. To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren’t picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong.”

In recent months immigration operations have led to dozens of arrests, rather than many hundreds, according to ICE press releases. Typically ICE agents arrest 30 percent of their targets during large-scale enforcement operations, a Department of Homeland Security official told the New York Times after the Northern California arrests.

An agency spokeswoman said the 864 people described as evading arrest in Northern and Central California were wanted for "violating immigration law," in response to a KQED request for information about why they were considered public safety threats. She provided just five examples of people on that list who ICE believes have been convicted of serious crimes.

  • A Honduran citizen who was previously arrested in San Francisco County multiple times for cocaine possession and transport, probation violations and sex with a minor under 16
  • A citizen of Mexico who was previously arrested and convicted for carrying a loaded firearm, transportation and sale of narcotics and DUI
  • A citizen of Mexico who was previously removed from the United States in 2003 with convictions for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor in 2002 and driving under the influence in 2007
  • A citizen of Mexico who was previously removed from the United States in 2013 with a conviction for sodomy, drugged victim from 2012 and driving under the influence in 2018
  • A citizen of Mexico who was previously removed from the United States in 2014 with a conviction for second-degree robbery while armed

ICE officials have declined to clarify the criminal histories of the people arrested in the Northern California region last month, relying instead on categories that lumped immigrants convicted of murder with those found guilty of entering the country illegally (a federal misdemeanor).

Of the 232 people arrested, ICE stated that 115, or just under half, had “prior felony convictions for serious and violent offenses” or past convictions for "significant or multiple misdemeanors." The other half had no criminal history.

When asked to specify how many arrestees were felons, spokeswoman Danielle Bennett would only respond, “All of those arrested were arrested for being in violation of immigration law.”

Bennett did provide a list of “the most egregious criminal convictions of those arrested,” which ranged from marijuana possession and disorderly conduct to aggravated assault and drug trafficking.

Of all those arrested, 52 neither had criminal histories nor had been ordered deported, according to ICE.

Schwab had said a more detailed breakdown on the arrests was in the works before his resignation Thursday.

Citing privacy restrictions, ICE would not provide further details on Schwab’s reasons for quitting, but acknowledged: “He recently announced his departure from the ICE OPA team and we are working to transition his responsibilities to other team members, as is standard practice, until we are able to hire a new public affairs officer in the San Francisco area.”

The San Francisco field office is responsible for an area that extends from Bakersfield north to the Oregon border and includes 49 counties.