Column: Trump expands crackdown on illegal immigration as early ballots are cast

Column: Trump expands crackdown on illegal immigration as early ballots are cast

Originally Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune

Michael Smolens - October 14, 2020

ICE arrest

The Trump administration is stepping up immigration enforcement.
(John Gibbins / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Immigration authorities are targeting ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions for more robust enforcement after lull due to coronavirus pandemic

President Donald Trump’s hard line on illegal immigration may come back into sharper focus during the final weeks of his re-election campaign.

For months, Trump has been at the center of disputes over his response to peaceful social justice protests and violent demonstrations, handling of the coronavirus pandemic, efforts to raise doubts about the validity of the November election, and reluctance to condemn White supremacy.

Now his own COVID-19 diagnosis and his nomination of federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court have overshadowed all of that.

Meanwhile, the crackdown on illegal immigration, Trump’s signature policy and political prescription, had lost its high profile, at least temporarily — no doubt in part because of all the other controversies.

But also, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency ratcheted back its operations in March due to safety concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Though the deadly virus is continuing to spread, ICE is ramping up its activity.

“U.S. immigration officials quietly announced they would resume regular apprehension and detention practices, an apparent reversal from an earlier temporary suspension of non-criminal enforcement due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Miami Herald reported in late September.

The effort isn’t so quiet anymore. ICE is openly targeting “sanctuary” jurisdictions, which generally prohibit local law enforcement agencies from coordinating with federal immigration enforcement actions.

Last week, ICE announced 128 arrests have been made in California under “Operation Rise” — with 24 of them in San Diego County, according to Kristina Davisof The San Diego Union-Tribune. The operation spanned the region, from Encinitas and Escondido to San Diego and Spring Valley.

Other areas targeted included Los Angeles and San Francisco. Some 80 percent of the arrests involved people with prior criminal convictions or pending criminal charges beyond immigration violations, including sex acts with a minor, domestic violence, drug possession, vehicle theft, burglary and DUI, authorities said.

A state law prohibits local law enforcement from notifying ICE when people arrested for certain crimes are about to be released, although notifications are allowed when it comes to about 800 serious crimes. That means ICE must pick up many of those people elsewhere.

“When you make arrests out in public, things can go wrong,” Gregory Archambeault, director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in San Diego and Imperial counties said Thursday.

Neither the city nor county of San Diego has declared itself an immigration sanctuary, as Los Angeles, San Francisco and other California jurisdictions have. However, San Diego must abide by sanctuary laws passed by the state.

Davis noted that San Diego law enforcement leaders over the years have said they do not intend to enforce immigration laws, in part because that could shake the trust of immigrants, making investigations of crime and keeping communities safe more difficult. But she added some local agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department, have said the state laws have gone too far.

Earlier, ICE said it was confident its officers can conduct operations safely amid the continuing pandemic, and no longer talked about using more “discretion” about arresting non-criminal undocumented migrants, according to the Miami Herald.

The Washington Post said the so-called “sanctuary op” is a nationwide effort aimed at more than immigration enforcement.

“Two officials with knowledge of plans for sanctuary op described it as more of a political messaging campaign than a major ICE operation,” the Post said.

ICE may have downshifted some since the spring because of COVID-19, but the agency said it continued to focus on immigration violators with criminal records.

At the beginning of September, ICE announced it had arrested 46 people around San Diego County as part of a monthlong, nationwide operation.

A New York Times review of government data of that operation found ICE arrested a large number of immigrants who had committed minor crimes or no crimes at all other than immigration violations.

Overall, Trump has continued his pursuit of restrictive immigration policies during the pandemic. He greatly limited asylum, blocked refugees from entering the country, closed borders for most nonessential crossings and built hundreds of miles of border wall, though most of it to replace existing fencing.

How hard the administration will target sanctuary jurisdictions is unknown. Last year, an operation aimed at those jurisdictions came up short of administration expectations. Trump actually mentioned the raids ahead of time on Twitter.

“Some ICE officials privately attributed the operation’s underwhelming results to Trump’s boasting and indiscipline,” the Post said.

The president also has threatened to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, similar to the subsequent threat he made to large Democratic-run cities over civil unrest. His lawsuit to overturn California’s sanctuary law, which was supported twiceby a divided San Diego County Board of Supervisors, was unsuccessful.

The lawsuit was largely dismissed by a federal judge and the ruling was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case.

For years, Trump’s policies have been accompanied by the president’s harsh rhetoric about undocumented immigrants, which has further inflamed passions.

Layered on top of that are his broader views and actions regarding issues affecting people of color. Among other things, he has called the words “Black Lives Matter” a “symbol of hate,” criticized a federal housing rule that seeks to do away with racial segregation, and declined to strongly condemn White supremacists and other extremist groups.

Whether all of this has reached a critical mass that will affect his re-election prospects is an open question. And it remains to be seen if rebooted immigration enforcement will rise to the top of the issues involving the president.

There’s a lot of competition.

unitedwestay

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