Posted on September 30, 2020

ICE Preparing Targeted Arrests in ‘Sanctuary Cities,’ Amplifying President’s Campaign Theme

Nick Miroff and Devlin Barrett, Washington Post, September 29, 2020

The Trump administration is preparing an immigration enforcement blitz next month that would target arrests in U.S. cities and jurisdictions that have adopted “sanctuary” policies, according to three U.S. officials who described a plan with public messaging that echoes the president’s law-and-order campaign rhetoric.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation, known informally as the “sanctuary op,” could begin in California as soon as later this week. It would then expand to cities including Denver and Philadelphia, according to two of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive government law enforcement plans.


Cities and jurisdictions with sanctuary policies that eschew or prohibit coordination with ICE typically refuse to hold immigrants in jail longer than they are required to so that ICE officers can take them into custody. Such cities also do not help ICE by checking the legal status of suspects who are arrested or detained for minor offenses.

ICE agents operating in sanctuary jurisdictions still may take custody of suspected immigration violators, but without local cooperation, they face the added challenge of finding out when those individuals will be released from jail and do not have the benefit of a coordinated handoff.

The policies, which have been adopted in many of the country’s largest cities, have a significant impact on ICE operations by limiting the number of potential deportees who can be easily taken into custody.

According to the latest statistics, 70 percent of the arrests ICE makes occur after the agency has been notified about an immigrant’s pending release from jail or state prison. ICE has lodged more than 160,000 such “detainers” with local law enforcement agencies since 2019, the agency said.

Sanctuary policies also have worsened a backlog of what ICE calls “at-large criminal and fugitive aliens ICE seeks to apprehend,” according to the agency.


The idea for a campaign publicizing criminal arrests in sanctuary jurisdictions has been floated repeatedly during the Trump administration, two officials said, and was actively under consideration this spring before the coronavirus pandemic. After the outbreak, ICE deferred some of its enforcement plans, citing health risks, and during that time, the agency’s arrests dropped by about one-third, statistics show.


On Monday, ICE announced a dozen arrests in Mecklenburg County, N.C., where voters elected a sheriff in 2018 who curbed the jurisdiction’s cooperation with ICE. That campaign was featured prominently in the Netflix documentary series “Immigration Nation.”

In a statement, ICE official Henry Lucero said the agency “cannot stand by idly while knowing the public is being misled about the role ICE plays in keeping the public safe.”

“The fact is local policies prohibiting agencies from working with ICE put you in danger and waste police resources,” Lucero said. “The public should hold its leaders accountable and demand to know what type of criminals are being released from local custody instead of turned over to ICE.”