Trump Administration to Shift 500 ICE Agents to Assist Sanctuary City Arrests

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
March 6, 2020Updated: March 6, 2020

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is intensifying its operations in 10 sanctuary cities, deploying approximately 500 special agents to increase surveillance around the homes and workplaces of undocumented immigrants.

ICE has started its 24-hour-a-day surveillance operations as part of its enhanced arrest campaign. It has requested the transfer of hundreds of special highly-trained agents who typically work on long-term investigations involving human trafficking and dangerous criminals, the New York Times reported on March 5.

In the coming weeks, the additional officers have been instructed by officials to “flood the streets” and operate in unmarked cars to ramp up arrests in the sanctuary cities where local law enforcement agencies refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.

Boston, New York, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Newark are among the cities refusing to assist with deportations, according to the New York Times.

The request comes after 100 officers and agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including elite tactical BORTAC (Border Patrol Tactical Unit) agents, were temporarily redeployed last month to assist with the arrest operation and deport undocumented immigrants in the cities. 

Sanctuary cities are locales that have enacted measures to prevent local officials from cooperating with federal immigration authorities like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If an illegal alien is arrested or convicted of a crime and ICE requests custody of them, sanctuary policies can prevent law enforcement from honoring the request. Eight states and hundreds of cities across the United States are recognized as sanctuaries for illegal immigrants.

The intensified operation, called Operation Palladium, began last month and will run through Dec. 31, according to an internal email seen by the New York Times.

Henry Lucero, head ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, said the deployment of additional agents in sanctuary cities is a direct response to policies that prevent local officials from notifying ICE when undocumented immigrants are scheduled to be released from law-enforcement custody. 

“We’ve asked for resources in some areas because there’s a significant backlog of criminal aliens that we’re not able to address,” Lucero told the Wall Street Journal. “If we had local cooperation in those areas, we wouldn’t need resources there. We would just be assuming custody of those aliens when they’re released from jail or prison.”

Department of Homeland acting Secretary Chad Wolf said last month that SWAT teams sent into communities are necessary because the jurisdictions are giving federal officers no assistance.

“What we found in these sanctuary jurisdictions is that local law enforcement does not work with the department,” Wolf said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.”

“So what used to take one or two officers going into a jail setting and picking up an individual that’s on a final order of removal, we now have to go into communities with many, many officers.”

Many sanctuary policies limit local law enforcement from cooperating and communicating with federal immigration authorities. All sanctuary policies shield, in some way, illegal immigrants from federal immigration authorities. 

The teams wouldn’t be required if sanctuary cities provided help for federal immigration enforcement, Wolf said.

The plans attracted opposition from some lawmakers and former government officials last month.

“This administration seems to think they can intimidate local law enforcement officials or act independently when operating in their jurisdictions,” John Cohen, a former DHS official during President Barack Obama’s administration, told ABC News. “That is a dangerous strategy that will fail.”

In a joint statement, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said that the efforts should be shut down.

“Because this initiative is unnecessary, unwelcome, dangerous, menacing, retaliatory and unlikely to achieve its stated goal, we write to demand that you reverse course and to pose questions to better understand your rationale for employing paramilitary-style immigration personnel equipped with ‘stun grenades and enhanced Special Forces-type training, including sniper certification’ in Boston and elsewhere in the United States,” the senators wrote in a letter to top immigration officials.

President Donald Trump meanwhile announced this week that his administration will withhold funds from sanctuary cities in line with a February court ruling that decided the government can act accordingly against states that don’t comply with federal immigration policies.

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.