Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, July 26, 2017
The country’s top immigration enforcement officer says he is looking into charging sanctuary city leaders with violating federal anti-smuggling laws because he is fed up with local officials putting their communities and his officers at risk by releasing illegal immigrants from jail.
Thomas Homan, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also told Americans to expect more work site enforcement targeting unscrupulous employers and more 287(g) agreements with willing police and sheriff’s departments that want to help get illegal immigrants off their streets.
Mr. Homan is the spear tip of President Trump’s effort to step up immigration enforcement — perhaps the largest swing in attitude for any agency in government from the last administration to the current one.
Agents and officers have been unshackled from the limits imposed by Mr. Obama, whose rules restricted arrests to less than 20 percent of the estimated illegal immigrant population.
Now, most illegal immigrants are eligible for deportation, though Mr. Homan said serious criminals, recent border crossers and people who are actively defying deportation orders are still the agency’s priorities.
He said the biggest impediment to expanding deportations is no longer ICE priority, but rather a huge backlog in the immigration courts, which are part of the Justice Department. Migrants who in the past would have admitted their unauthorized status and accepted deportation are now fighting their cases.
“They can play the system for a long time,” he said.
That resistance extends well beyond the courtroom.
Migrants are increasingly refusing to open doors for his officers and, when they do, the encounters are turning violent, Mr. Homan said. Use-of-force instances are up about 150 percent, and assaults on ICE officers are up about 40 percent, he said.
Local officials are also pushing back, declaring themselves sanctuaries and enacting policies that block their law enforcement officers from cooperating with ICE.
The refusals range from declining to hold migrants beyond their regular release time to refusing all communication — even notifying ICE when a criminal deportable alien is about to be released into the community.
ICE is also facing headwinds in the courts. One judge this week halted efforts to deport Iraqi migrants who have been convicted of serious crimes and have been ordered deported, but who now say as Christians they fear for their lives if sent back to their home country.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court this week issued a ruling that law enforcement cannot hold migrants for pickup by ICE beyond their normal release times. That effectively forbids police from complying with detainer requests, which ask local authorities to hold targets for up to 48 hours.
Mr. Homan said one officer in a jail can process 10 people a day, but once someone is released, it takes a whole team of officers to track down and arrest the person in the community — where interaction is more dangerous for all sides.
That has helped fuel the spike in violent encounters that Mr. Homan highlighted in the interview.
“When we knock on doors, as any law enforcement officer will tell you, it’s risky, it’s dangerous. Compare that to arresting someone in the jail, when you know they don’t have weapons in the jail,” he said.
“It’s a matter of time before one of my officers is seriously hurt or doesn’t go home because someone made a political decision on the backs of my officers,” he said.
But he said he won’t be chased out of “sanctuaries” and pointedly raised a section of federal code — 8 U.S.C. 1324 — that outlaws attempts to “conceal, harbor or shield” illegal immigrants.
“I think these sanctuary cities need to make sure they’re on the right side of the law. They need to look at this. Because I am,” he said.
Asked whether that means he will recommend prosecutions, he said, “We’re looking at what options we have.”
The law carries a penalty of five years in prison in most cases, but penalties could rise to include life in prison or even death if someone is killed during the crime.