Immigration Agents Arrest Hundreds in Sweep of Sanctuary Cities

Federal agents arrested 498 people from 42 countries in a four-day nationwide operation targeting cities that United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement said give sanctuary to undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes.

ICE officials said that the sweep, Operation Safe City, which concluded Wednesday, focused on “sanctuary jurisdictions” where the agency is denied access to jails to interview suspects and where its requests to take those arrested into custody are not honored.

The operation came amid an escalating conflict between these jurisdictions and the Trump administration, which has faced several legal challenges in its efforts to mandate cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. The arrests this week were a stinging rebuke to sanctuary cities, several of which have passed ordinances or policies preventing full cooperation with ICE.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration,” Thomas D. Homan, the acting director of ICE, said in a statement. “As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”

The most arrests were made in Philadelphia (107) and Los Angeles (101). There were also many arrests in Northern California; Boston; Denver; and Portland, Ore.

Typically, in such sweeps, teams of agents fan out in the early hours of the day to arrest people before they leave for work, after monitoring their movements in advance.

Among those arrested in Los Angeles, the agency said, was a Mexican gang member who entered the United States illegally. When agents encountered him, he rammed his car into multiple law enforcement vehicles in an effort to evade arrest. After he was arrested, agents found a loaded handgun in his pocket.

“Laws created under the guise to protect immigrants who are here to better their lives are being used by criminal elements to protect themselves,” said Jorge Field, assistant field office director for ICE in Los Angeles, adding that “having to make these arrests in public puts more people in danger.”

All told, agents arrested 167 undocumented immigrants in seven counties of Southern California, he said.

Honoring a campaign pledge, President Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a top priority. His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has been a key proponent of punishing localities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities.

Mr. Sessions recently denounced a bill passed this month by the California Legislature to limit communication between federal immigration agents and state and local law enforcement, among other provisions.

The Trump administration has tried to withhold federal money to sanctuary cities, only to face several challenges in court.

A federal judge in Chicago this month blocked a Justice Department policy that would require Chicago to cooperate with federal immigration authorities if the city wished to receive public funds for safety. The preliminary injunction applied to cities nationwide.

What constitutes a sanctuary city is loosely defined, but many cities have said that cooperating with ICE undermines public safety because doing so erodes trust between police and immigrant communities.

In March, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles signed an executive directive titled “Standing With Immigrants: A City of Safety, Refuge and Opportunity for All,” which reasserted the city’s longstanding policy of not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement.

In response to the latest ICE roundup, a spokesman for Mr. Garcetti said the mayor “believes that the administration should focus its actions on people who have committed serious crimes or pose a threat to our national security.”

In Denver, which had the third-highest number of arrests, the sheriff’s department notifies ICE when it is about to release an immigrant whom the agency has requested be held in detention. However, it does not hold inmates beyond a scheduled release date if ICE does not get them. It also does not allow agents to interview inmates without a judicial warrant.

Immigration arrests jumped nearly 40 percent in the first three months of the Trump administration. ICE arrested 41,318 immigrants, a rate of more than 400 each day, compared with 30,028 over roughly the same period in 2016.

Among those taken into custody in this week’s operation, 317 had criminal convictions, including 86 for driving under the influence, the most of any listed offense. Other crimes included assault, drug trafficking and domestic violence, as well as trespassing, invasion of privacy and “Peeping Tom.”

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