State and local officials have called the Trump administration’s sanctuary city rhetoric “outrageous” and “unhinged” after a top immigration official floated the idea of targeting local politicians in municipalities that seek to protect undocumented immigrants.
The harsh comments came after acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that he hoped the Justice Department would challenge sanctuary cities in the court, and that the department should “hold these politicians personally accountable.”
“We gotta take [sanctuary cities] to court, and we gotta start charging some of these politicians with crimes,” Mr Homan said.
Mr Homan continued on to say that California Governor Jerry Brown, who signed a state-wide sanctuary bill last year, should expect more immigration agents in his state.
“If he thinks ICE is going away, we're not,” Homan said. “There's no sanctuary from federal law enforcement. As a matter of fact, we're in the process now — I'm going to significantly increase our enforcement presence in California. We're already doing it. We're going to detail additional enforcement assets to California. California better hold on tight — they're about to see a lot more special agents, a lot more deportation officers in the State of California. If the politicians in California don't want to protect their communities, then ICE will.”
Officials and advocates say that those types of comments reflect a disrespect for the law shown by the Trump administration when it comes to immigration, and that the administration turns a blind eye to actual laws and court challenges currently on the books across the nation.
“We’d encourage this individual to better educate himself on what laws in California do and don’t do before frothing and fear mongering on Fox News,” Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Mr Brown’s office, told The Independent in a statement.
The Trump administration has repeatedly criticised sanctuary city policies, which allow local police and authorities to exercise discretion in response to federal immigration detainer requests when it comes to non-violent offenders. President Donald Trump has himself criticised the programmes, threatening to pull funding from the cities — even though the legality of doing so has been questioned.
The Trump administration has also been ramping up immigration detentions in a change in policy that has been criticised as increasingly indiscriminate. At the same time, however, Mr Trump has overseen less overall deportations than his predecessor.
California’s state sanctuary bill from last year does not prohibit ICE agents from doing their jobs, does not prohibit sheriffs from allowing ICE agents to visit California jails to conduct routine interviews, and does not prohibit cooperation with federal officials for deportations related to serious offences.
“The Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policies have taken a turn from the inhumane to the comically absurd. What’s next - deporting anyone who didn’t vote for Trump?” Kevin de Léon, the California State Senate leader and author of the bill, told The Independent in an email.
“These threats from Homan are proof positive that the Trump Administration and ICE are basing their immigration enforcement on fear and not fact, pure hate and no heart,” Mr de Léon continued. “This is why California won’t help them tear our families apart.”
Other states have taken the opposite tact compared to California, and have been met with legal challenges. In Texas, for instance, the passage of Senate Bill 4, which would have outlawed sanctuary city policies in the state, was met with fierce opposition that tied parts of the bill up in the courts.
In New York City, the largest sanctuary city in the United States, officials similarly said that attacks on their policies — and politicians — is an unfortunate hallmark of the Trump campaign.
“These unhinged and misinformed comments are irresponsible even for the Trump Administration,” Seth Stein, a spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, told The Independent in an email. “This is just another example of the Trump Administration twisting the facts about localities to stoke fear in an attempt to advance its deportation agenda.”