Ramped-Up ICE Raids Seek To Force Sanctuary Cities Into Submission

The Trump administration is escalating pressure on jurisdictions that defy the president's orders on illegal immigration

Mar 24, 2017 at 2:58 PM ET

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have been doubling down on their operations in so-called sanctuary cities as the Trump administration elevates its war against jurisdictions that defy the president’s orders on illegal immigration.

A senior immigration official told CNN Thursday night that ICE will continue to ratchet up raids in areas lenient toward undocumented residents in an effort to force these jurisdictions into helping federal agents with deportations. The revelation comes just days after federal judge in Texas claimed — in open court — that immigration authorities conducted raids in Austin, Texas, in retaliation for the sanctuary policies implemented by the local sheriff.

President Trump has already taken steps to strip millions of dollars in federal funds from immigrant sanctuaries, whose police forces refuse to work with federal agents to arrest and detain immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. And on Monday the Department of Homeland Security rolled out a weekly report that identifies cities and counties that release undocumented immigrants from jail instead of turning them over to ICE — a move that critics claim seeks to name and shame these jurisdictions.

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The ramped-up raids, however, mark a significant escalation in the White House-led battle, one that remained undisclosed until this week.

The senior immigration official who spoke with CNN noted that the the first large-scale deportation sweep under Trump, which netted nearly 700 people nationwide in February, overwhelmingly targeted sanctuary cities, such as Austin, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The unnamed source added that high-ranking ICE officials have privately discussed carrying out more aggressive raids in immigrant sanctuaries, which Trump and immigration hardliners claim are public safety threats that harbor dangerous criminals.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin appeared to confirm this tactic on Monday during a hearing involving an unrelated ICE arrest that took place outside the Travis County courthouse. The judge said that immigration officials had informed him that the dozens of arrests made in Austin during last month’s sweeps were ordered in response to Sheriff Sally Hernandez’ decision in January to limit her department’s cooperation with ICE.

“We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town, that it was going to be a specific operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen,” Austin said during the hearing.

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While there’s no exact definition, immigrant sanctuaries — which number in the hundreds around the U.S. — generally refer to jurisdictions that do not cooperate fully with ICE. Some cities, counties, and even college campuses do so by prohibiting local law enforcement from asking about a person’s immigration status. Others refuse to detain undocumented immigrants for minor offenses or honor all deportation requests made by the federal government.

In a statement, ICE denied that it’s conducted any raids as a form of retribution against sanctuary jurisdictions. “ICE regularly conducts targeted enforcement operations across the country to enhance public safety and national security, and to ensure the integrity of our nation’s immigration system,” the statement said. “Our enforcement actions are not random and target specific violators based on prior intelligence.”