Maria Santana, CNN, March 24, 2017
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been targeting so-called “sanctuary cities” with increased enforcement operations in an effort to pressure those jurisdictions to cooperate with federal immigration agents, a senior US immigration official with direct knowledge of ongoing ICE actions told CNN.
A sanctuary city is a broad term applied to states, cities and/or counties that have policies in place designed to limit cooperation or involvement in the enforcement of federal immigration operations. More than 100 US jurisdictions — among them New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — identify as such.
High-ranking ICE officials have discussed in internal meetings carrying out more raids on those locations, said the source.
This week, a federal judge in Texas seems to have confirmed that tactic. US Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin revealed during an immigration hearing Monday that a mid-February raid in the Austin metro area was done in retaliation for a local sheriff’s recent decision to limit her department’s cooperation with ICE.
“There’s been questions about whether Austin is being targeted. We had a briefing…. that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town. There was going to be a specific operation, and it was at least related to us in that meeting that it was a result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen,” Austin says in audio of the proceedings provided by the court.
ICE categorically denied any suggestion that planned operations were specifically aimed at the sheriff’s county.
“Rumors and reports that recent ICE operations are specifically targeting Travis County, Texas, apart from normal operations, are inaccurate,” read a statement from ICE, although it did go on to say that “more ICE operational activity is required to conduct at-large arrests in any law enforcement jurisdiction that fails to honor ICE immigration detainers.”
This increase in “operational activity” in sanctuary cities is one of the ways ICE is turning up on the heat on local authorities and part of a broader strategy to coerce cooperation, according to the senior immigration official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
Officials in several sanctuary cities began complaining that they may be getting intentionally targeted after a series of raids around the country in February resulted in almost 700 arrests, but ICE described these operations as routine and said they were planned during the previous administration.
The senior immigration official pointed out that the raids overwhelmingly took place in sanctuary jurisdictions.
On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security published its first weekly report naming jurisdictions that refuse to hold and release immigrants who could be subject to deportation. Along with the nationwide list of places that have regularly failed to honor hold requests for individuals charged or convicted of a crime between January 28 and February 3, DHS also highlights the 10 counties that had the most declined detainers.
Sheriff Hernandez’s Travis County in Texas is listed near the top. Based on the report, her jurisdiction had declined 128 ICE detainers and released dozens of inmates in that time period, a statistic that has intensified condemnations from her critics for her change in policy.