ICE arrests 24 in San Diego in operation targeting immigration ‘sanctuary’ laws

The statewide operation last week resulted in 128 arrests total, many of whom have past or pending criminal cases

OCT. 8, 2020 4:28 PM

A five-day immigration enforcement operation targeting migrants who have criminal histories ended with 24 arrests in San Diego County, part of a broader publicity campaign that blames “sanctuary” laws for making such arrests more labor intensive and dangerous.

The effort, called “Operation Rise,” targeted the metropolitan areas of San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, resulting in 128 arrests total.

Of the arrests announced Thursday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego, more than 80 percent had prior criminal convictions or pending criminal charges, including sex acts with a minor, domestic violence, drug possession, vehicle theft, burglary and DUI, authorities said. Officials were not able to specify how many charges were felony or misdemeanor.

Most of those arrested already had final orders of removal issued by a federal immigration judge, according to ICE.

ICE officials say 12 of the San Diego arrests would likely have occurred earlier within local jails had it not been for California laws that limit state and local cooperation with immigration enforcement.

A 2013 state law prohibits jailers from holding on to non-citizen inmates past the date of their authorized release, including those who post bail pending criminal further proceedings. Under the law, the federal “detainers” that immigration officers submit asking for a temporary hold so a transfer of custody can be coordinated are considered merely administrative and therefore not valid.

The California Values Act, which passed in 2017, broadly restricts coordination with ICE. A specific part of the law prohibits jailers from notifying ICE when inmates arrested on mostly low-level crimes are about to be released, although notifications are allowed when it comes to about 800 serious crimes. In those cases, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the county’s jails, transfers custody to ICE in the secure driveway of the jail. Last year, 271 such transfers were made, according to sheriff’s records.

The legislative measure, signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, was a response to the Trump administration’s ramped-up focus on immigration enforcement. It was seen by proponents as a way to encourage undocumented immigrants to report crime to local police without fear of deportation — a level of trust that lawmakers say is needed to make communities safer overall.

ICE officials argue that limitations within the jails make their jobs more dangerous and difficult, as well as potentially endangering the community.

“We are forced to go out and make these arrests within the community as opposed to local law enforcement agencies calling ICE and transferring them into the custody within the secure confines of a jail,” Gregory Archambeault, director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in San Diego and Imperial counties, said in a press call Thursday.

“When you make arrests out in public, things can go wrong.”

San Diego has often been included in the Trump administration’s ire against sanctuary jurisdictions, even though aside from state laws the city does not have separate sanctuary measures in place, as do some other major cities, including San Francisco and Sacramento.

San Diego law enforcement leaders have firmly acknowledged over the years that they have no intent of enforcing immigration laws, as it can create a chilling effect on investigating local crimes and keeping communities safe. Still, many agencies across the state, including the local Sheriff’s Department, have said the state laws have gone too far.

The county Board of Supervisors and Escondido City Council were among several local government bodies to support the Trump administration in suing the state over the 2017 law. The lawsuit was largely dismissed by a federal judge and the ruling upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case.

The Sheriff’s Department has a long history of cooperation with ICE — including at one point giving ICE officers dedicated desk space inside the jails — and has had to tweak its level of coordination to adhere to state law in recent years.

Now, the department publicly posts on its website a list of which inmates are to be released on any given day; there were 20 listed to be released on Thursday. Archambeault said that kind of notification still presents challenges for ICE: it’s hard to manage officer resources when a specific time of release is not provided, and it’s considered dangerous to make arrests directly outside jail — particularly in downtown San Diego.

The law still allows ICE officers access to jails to interview consenting inmates about immigration status.

The arrests last week spanned the county, taking place in Encinitas, Escondido, Fallbrook, Lakeside, National City, Oceanside, Poway, San Diego, San Marcos, Spring Valley and Vista. Of the 24 arrested, one was not on the target list. The person had a DUI conviction and was given a notice to appear in immigration court, Archambeault said.

Immigrant advocates say the operation is a political show of force and a public relations stunt by the Trump administration coming a month before Election Day. Critics added that such operations are reckless in light of the pandemic and an effort to distract from deaths in detention centers and reports of forced hysterectomies on some detainees.

Lilian Serrano, chair of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, a coalition of 50 advocacy groups, said the Values Act has made strides in helping all Californians feel safer interacting with law enforcement to report crimes and cooperate in investigations.

“That ICE is willing to come into the community and create panic, and put families and children in a mental state where they don’t want to leave their homes, all just because there is an election next month and they feel they have political terrain to gain,” Serrano said, “nobody should be OK with that.”