Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
On Saturday, Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, California, took the unusual step of issuing a public warning about the possibility of upcoming raids by federal immigration agents in her community. In a statement widely shared on social media, Schaaf said “multiple credible sources” had told her that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was “preparing to conduct an operation in the Bay Area, including Oakland, starting as soon as within the next 24 hours.” She explained that she was sharing this information to protect local residents from arrest and deportation.
Schaaf has received substantial pushback and criticism, including threats of violence, for her stance. And ICE spokesman James Schwab denied that the agency conducts “sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.” But the mayor has stood firm, saying that “many decisions that I make have risks and rewards” and that she did not regret issuing the alert.
Good for her. Under the Trump administration, an ugly deportation force has been indiscriminately terrorizing immigrant and Latino communities. Schaaf is rightly and lawfully acting on her conscience to resist the intrusion by the feds into state and local law enforcement.
Schaaf did not tell people to resist immigration agents, nor did she condone any obstruction of law enforcement activity. She directed people to a local group that helps immigrants know their rights and responsibilities if they face detention or need legal representation.
To better understand Schaaf’s warning, it is important to look at the context surrounding the immigration debate in California. Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill making California a “sanctuary state.” The law went into effect this year. It doesn’t make the Golden State some sort of haven for undocumented people to run amok. It simply allows California’s state and local law enforcement officers to focus on their jobs of protecting their communities, while leaving immigration enforcement to the feds.
Contrary to what the term “sanctuary” may bring to mind, federal immigration agents can still carry out their duties in California, whether that means combating drug traffickers or going after violent gang members in the country illegally.
However, in the Trump era, ICE agents have been detaining and deporting many otherwise law-abiding longtime residents who are here without authorization. According to a news report, ICE agents are increasingly arresting people with no criminal records. This is on top of data showing that “non-criminal arrests” (that’s ICE’s own terminology) skyrocketed in 2017.
So instead of concentrating on those whom Trump might call “bad hombres,” his administration is going after moms and dads and children – breaking up families and instilling fear in immigrant communities. That’s why Schaaf alerted her constituents of the possibility of ICE raids. Even people who are not a target of ICE agents can easily be swept up as “collateral arrests” – which may amount to racial profiling and violate their rights.
It is interesting to see the reaction of conservatives to the sanctuary movement. Under President Barack Obama, conservatives were outraged by what they saw as an overbearing federal government when it came to issues like health care and the proposed expansion of the DACA program. Now, under Donald Trump, they have suddenly decided that federal authorities should be able to run roughshod over what state and local lawmakers have decided is best for their jurisdictions.
Schaaf has legitimate reasons to do what she did. In January, the acting director of ICE, Thomas Homan, basically threatened the state for passing its sanctuary policies. “California better hold on tight,” Homan told Fox News. “They’re about to see a lot more special agents, a lot more deportation officers in the state of California.” There is research showing that fears of deportation have deterred undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes, from reporting domestic abuse, and from serving as witnesses for the police.
In January, rather than going after violent criminals who are undocumented, ICE agents spent taxpayer dollars raiding 77 Northern California businesses in search of unauthorized workers – the same month they raided 7-11 stores nationwide. Does anyone feel safer knowing that your Slurpees are not being made by an undocumented immigrant?
Schaaf said she felt it was “her duty and moral obligation” to warn her community when a threat appears imminent. And California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom backed her up, thanking her for her “courage.” If only more leaders were willing to stand up to the destructive Trump deportation force – and take the resistance to the next level.
Although Schaaf’s warning about potential ICE raids was unusual for a public official, we are not living in normal times. If her sources were correct, Schaaf did the compassionate, smart and lawful thing.