Sparring between California and feds reaches new level over immigration enforcement
North Coast lawmakers are pressing the Trump administration to outline its plans for any immigration-related crackdown in California after news reports last week about a large federal sweep being planned for the state.
The push for information comes in the wake of recent comments from the acting head of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, who has tangled publicly with Sonoma County authorities, promising arrests in California neighborhoods and work sites.
“I can't sugarcoat this fact: The threat of sweeps and deportation is very real right now,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said Friday from Washington, as lawmakers continued to wrestle with an immigration overhaul in their bid to avert a federal government shutdown.
Huffman, a vocal critic of the president, accused his administration of trying to “maximize shock and fear” around the hot-button issue of immigration and undocumented residents, one that Trump seized on in 2016 to win the Republican nomination and the White House.
“It's not about making people safer, it's about scaring the daylights out of the immigrant community,” Huffman said.
Local law enforcement officials, meanwhile, say they have heard nothing from their federal counterparts about any planned immigration sweep.
Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder, head of the second-largest local policing agency, sought to remind residents that local law enforcement, by uniform agreement, does not actively participate in such immigration enforcement operations.
Recent “saber-rattling” by federal officials, he said, has put many people on edge.
“There's a vast difference between the interests of federal authorities and local law enforcement in this case,” Schreeder said. “We can't stop them from operating here, but we don't have to help them out.”
Feds vs state
The standoff over immigration enforcement between federal officials on the one side and state and local officials on the other, traces back this year to Jan. 2, when Homan, the acting ICE director, appeared on Fox News to denounce California's “sanctuary state” law, which had taken effect the day before.
The law prohibits officials at county jails from cooperating with federal immigration agents unless someone has been convicted of a serious crime, as outlined by a separate 2014 law that governs jails' immigration holds on inmates.
“There's no sanctuary from federal law enforcement,” Homan told Fox News' Neil Cavuto. “I'm going to significantly increase our enforcement presence in California.”
In the interview, Homan called out Sonoma County for the second time in three months, claiming lack of cooperation with the Sonoma County Jail put the public at risk. His comments drew a sharply worded response from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
“If ICE wants an immigrant detained after their incarceration period is over, they can get a warrant signed by a judge like any other law enforcement agency,” said sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Spencer Crum in a prepared statement.
Federal immigration agents inquired about inmates at the Sonoma County Jail 317 times in 2017. In only two cases did they provide a warrant signed by a federal judge, according to a draft report provided by the Sheriff's Office.
Frustration with feds
Eight days after Homan's fiery appearance on Fox News, ICE agents visited four Sonoma County 7-Eleven stores as part of a nationwide sweep, hitting 98 franchise locations in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
No arrests were made in Sonoma County or in other Northern California locations visited by ICE agents. Local police departments were was not notified before the operation, and while their officers would not have participated in the sweeps, some officials have privately voiced frustration that they did not receive courtesy calls that arrests could be made on their turf.
Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano declined interview requests last week about federal immigration operations in the county.
He had his own war of words with Homan last year when the ICE official slammed the county as a “noncooperative jurisdiction” and called out the Sheriff's Office in particular, saying it “left (the) community vulnerable to dangerous individuals.”
The federal agency had criticized the Sheriff's Office on the day after a conservative website erroneously linked an arson suspect - a homeless man alleged to have lit a warming fire in Sonoma - to the October wildfires that killed 24 people in the county and burned more than 137 square miles.
Giordano shot back, calling the comments “misleading and inflammatory.”
Crum, the Sheriff's Office spokesman, declined last week to speculate on the federal government's intentions in the latest wave of activity, or on speculation by some in the community that the county is being targeted by the Trump administration. “We don't know what ICE is planning in the county,” Crum said. “If ICE is targeting us, only they can say.”
An ICE spokesman said the agency targets people not jurisdictions.
“We don't conduct operations by area, we conduct operations by target,” said James Schwab, spokesman for ICE's San Francisco office. “We wouldn't target a specific city or county.”
But Huffman, for his part, said he had “no doubt that they (the Trump Administration) are trying to intimate and coerce California generally and progressive communities specifically.”
Tensions rise again
The tension between California and federal officials over immigration policy spiked again last week after the San Francisco Chronicle, relying on a single anonymous source, reported that ICE officials were planning an enforcement sweep that could lead to the arrest of more than 1,500 undocumented immigrants in Northern California.
ICE officials declined to comment for the story, which said agents would target people identified for deportation, including those who have been served with final orders and those with criminal histories.
The same day, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, sent a letter to Trump saying his administration's priorities were “wildly out of touch.” The focus of immigration enforcement should be on violent criminals and gangs, not neighborhoods and work sites, Thompson said.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris sent their own letter to Homan requesting an explanation of how raids in California are prioritized, as well as all relevant document and emails regarding ICE operations in California.
As of Friday evening, Homan had not responded to the senators.
Huffman said the cloud of uncertainty over federal immigration enforcement has led him to urge his constituents - including more than 700,000 residents living in the area stretching from Marin County to Oregon - not to trust the federal government.
“It's a rather complex message,” he said. “Trust your local governments and local police but not the federal government.”
You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @nrahaim.