Federal immigration agents arrested 21 people from Santa Clara County this week as part of a national four-day operation targeting so-called “sanctuary cities,” according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Operation Safe City” focused on cities and regions with policies that prevent local police from being deputized to enforce immigration laws. In Santa Clara County, the Sheriff’s Office refuses to detain inmates for ICE and several cities prohibit their police from coordinating with immigration officials. Meanwhile, a bill that would make California the first “sanctuary state” is a signature away from becoming law.
The heavy-handed enforcement campaign was similar in scope to those in years past, ICE spokesman James Schwab told San Jose Inside, but it was unprecedented in that the agency has never launched operations in response to city and regional policies.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration,” ICE Acting Director Tom Homan said in a press release, ignoring the fact that courts have repeatedly ruled it unconstitutional for local police to comply with ICE detainer requests without probable cause. “As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”
State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León denounced the raids as politically motivated, adding in a statement that it “clearly shows why California needs to protect the honest, hard-working residents so critical to our economy from [President Trump’s] deportation machine.”
Nationwide, the op swept up 498 people from 42 countries for suspected immigration violations, ICE officials announced Thursday. As with past raids, immigration authorities framed the action as an effort to protect the public, saying they zeroed in on immigrants with criminal records. However, many of the detainees’ crimes were non-violent and a quarter of them were for driving under the influence. About a third of those arrested had no criminal record at all.
San Francisco and Santa Clara counties accounted for 27 detainees. In the South Bay, the arrests were made in Mountain View, San Jose and Morgan Hill. All but a few had prior criminal convictions and four had been previously deported, Schwab said.
ICE declined to identify the local detainees by name, but the agency offered a description of one in its press release that promotes the narrative of immigrant criminality espoused by the Trump administration. ICE claimed that one of the arrestees in San Jose was a Mexican citizen who came to the U.S. on a visa and allegedly overstayed by more than a decade. The man reportedly had prior convictions for drug sales and felony child cruelty, authorities added, and he’d been released from jail before ICE took him into custody.
According to ICE, the agency’s operation relied on help from its National Criminal Analysis and Targeting Center and its Pacific Enforcement Response Center, which was founded in 2015 to find undocumented immigrants who end up in local jails. It should be noted, however, that the ICE data centers rely on a fingerprint database that the American Civil Liberties Union calls antiquated and erroneous 30 percent of the time.
Some of the people arrested during the op will face prosecution in federal court for illegal entry and re-entry, according to ICE. Others will be processed administratively for deportation, but will still be held on bail.
No recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program were targeted, Schwab added.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he’s “extremely concerned” that ICE cast too wide a net with its arrests.
“Taking such an indiscriminate approach to immigration enforcement is not only a poor use of federal resources, it also stokes fear and erodes trust of local law enforcement in our community,” he said.
Liccardo also assured that San Jose police played no part in the ICE raids. Just as local police officers don’t enforce federal tax, securities or environmental laws, he explained, they don’t participate in any type of immigration enforcement. That’s not their job.
“This longstanding policy keeps us safer by focusing our limited police resources on preventing and responding to serious crimes, and ensuring that no resident will hesitate from calling 9-1-1 or otherwise assisting the police due to fear of deportation,” he said.
Rosa De Leon, a local organizer for the nonprofit Sacred Heart Community Service, said ICE pushes a message about the criminality of immigrants to justify its actions and to sow fear and mistrust in the community. But studies show that immigrants—undocumented or otherwise—are far less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens, she added. Studies have also shown that sanctuary jurisdictions tend to be safer and enjoy stronger economies than non-sanctuary counterparts.
"The narrative that ICE has created about immigrants is hurting our community, and they often misrepresent information,” said De Leon, who works with families affected by the crackdown. “This narrative prevents us from acknowledging the contributions that immigrant families make to our community—their community"
She pointed out that ICE routinely violates people’s constitutional rights, uses deceptive tactics such as posing as local cops and disseminates propaganda to turn public sentiment against immigrants. She said it’s important to keep in mind that ICE and related enforcement agencies tear families apart, separate parents from children and remove people from their communities.
“When we hear about these deportations, we hear a one-sided story,” De Leon said. “We don’t think about how there’s a person behind these numbers being reported. They don’t want us to think about the people behind these numbers.”
In light of the recent raids, local activists and immigrant advocates are trying to raise more awareness about a hotline for people to report suspected ICE presence, which San Jose Inside reported on this past spring. The number invites anyone to report a suspected immigration raid and which notifies community members to show up and witness an enforcement action as it happens. The rapid-response line also connects the targeted family with immigration attorneys and other services they may need.
De Leon said the South Bay hotline was activated nine times this past Sunday through Wednesday. Hamid Yazdan Panah, an attorney coordinator for the Northern California Rapid Response Network, said such hotlines could prevent deportations.
“It is critical for community members to report ICE activity as soon as it takes place in order for local networks and attorneys to respond effectively,” Panah said. “Time is of the essence in these cases and early reporting can potentially mean the difference between deportation and due process.”
This weekend, local volunteers plan to canvas neighborhoods with fliers about the hotline, which has been promoted by the city of San Jose and is part of a broader nationwide initiative. Sacred Heart will also continue to host monthly trainings for people who want to learn how to help the rapid-response effort. The next workshop in the South Bay takes place on Oct. 8 in San Jose. To sign up for the event, click here.
Sources at the Mexican Consulate in San Jose said Santa Clara County has been averaging about two immigration detentions per week—not including times when ICE ramps up arrests as part of targeted campaigns, such as the one this week.
This article has been updated.