Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sent out an alert on Feb. 24 to warn illegal immigrants that a federal immigration operation was pending in her jurisdiction.
Schaaf said she learned from “multiple credible sources” that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was preparing an operation as soon as the next 24 hours.
She said she was sharing the information “not to panic our residents but to protect them.”
“I know that Oakland is a city of law-abiding immigrants and families who deserve to live free from the constant threat of arrest and deportation,” Schaaf said. “I believe it is my duty and moral obligation as mayor to give those families fair warning when that threat appears imminent.”
A warning like this from a public official is “very irresponsible,” said Jessica Vaughan, director for policy at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies.
“ICE is targeting primarily criminals who have been released by sanctuary policies in the Bay Area, and so the mayor is really tipping off criminals that ICE is seeking,” Vaughan said on Feb. 26.
“The ironic thing about officials like this mayor—who implement sanctuary policies—is that they say they do it because they want all immigrants in the community to feel safe,” she said.
“Well, this has the opposite effect. They feel less safe because they feel they are vulnerable to an enforcement action that is probably not even directed at them. It’s only directed at the criminals, in most cases, or people with egregious immigration violations.”
ICE responded with a statement saying it carries out enforcement operations on a daily basis in Northern California and across the nation.
“ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately,” said James Schwab, ICE spokesman for the San Francisco office.
More illegal immigrants are at risk of being swept up in collateral arrests by ICE if the agency is forced to conduct at-large arrests in the community, Schwab said, especially now that no illegal alien is exempt from enforcement. Under President Barack Obama, ICE was given prosecutorial discretion to only arrest criminals, but President Donald Trump has said ICE is not restricted in arresting any illegal alien.
“Sanctuary cities and states are not immune from federal law,” Schwab said.
California officially designated itself a sanctuary state as of Jan. 1 and as such, Oakland police officers are prohibited from participating in ICE activities.
Several months ago, Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick came under fire for providing traffic control assistance while ICE conducted an operation.
Business owners are also prohibited from assisting ICE agents in immigration enforcement and federal immigration agents are barred by state law from accessing employee-only areas.
“My priority is for the well-being and safety of all residents—particularly our most vulnerable—and I know Oakland is safer when we share information, encourage community awareness, and care for our neighbors,” Schaff wrote.
Vaughan, said that although this sounds good, the way to keep Oakland safe is to allow the police to share information with ICE.
“Her policies prevent that—the kind of information sharing that actually would help keep everyone in Oakland safe. So it’s a one-way street for her on information-sharing,” Vaughan said.
“What’s sad though, is that Oakland has a lot of people—Americans and legal immigrants alike—who are negatively affected by illegal immigration. And her open invitation for people to come and reside in Oakland illegally is a slap in the face to them.”