DOJ reviewing Oakland mayor's tipoff of immigration raids
An ICE official said that Mayor Libby Schaaf's warning helped an estimated 800 "criminal aliens" avoid capture
By Alene Tchekmedyian and Paloma Esquivel
Los Angeles Times
OAKLAND, Calif. — The White House on Thursday said the Department of Justice was reviewing the actions of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who last weekend alerted residents in advance of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in Northern California.
"I think it's outrageous that a mayor would circumvent federal authorities and certainly put them in danger by making a move such as that," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
She said Schaaf's actions were under "review" but would not be more specific.
Justin Berton, a spokesman for Schaaf, said the mayor's office is unaware of any review and declined to comment further. A Justice Department spokesman in the Bay Area also declined to comment.
Schaaf has defended her statement, saying she felt it was her duty to warn residents of the ICE action.
Oakland, like many California cities, has declared itself a sanctuary for those here illegally, and officials there have vowed to fight President Trump's immigration crackdown.
She has won praise from other officials in California. But the Trump administration has rebuked her.
"The Oakland mayor's decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens — making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold," ICE's acting director, Thomas D. Homan, said in a statement Tuesday.
Speaking on "Fox and Friends," Homan added that the mayor's warning helped an estimated 800 "criminal aliens" avoid capture. He also said federal authorities were examining her actions.
"What she did is no better than a gang lookout yelling 'police' when a police cruiser comes in the neighborhood, except she did it to a whole community. This is beyond the pale," he said.
In ICE's four-day operation that ended Wednesday, agents arrested 232 people suspected of violating immigration laws, the agency said Thursday.
Of those, 115 had prior convictions for "serious or violent" crimes or "significant or multiple" misdemeanors. The offenses include sex crimes against children, weapons violations and assault, the agency said.
On Tuesday, before agents had wrapped up the operation, Homan had said 864 immigrants with criminal histories are still at large despite the raids that led to arrests in cities including Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco and Bay Point. He blamed Schaaf in part.
"I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor's irresponsible decision," Homan said.
Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, said she believed Schaaf's purpose in making the warning was not to help people evade the law, but to give them the opportunity to make preparations for their families or get appropriate legal advice.
"As she stated it, it was her purpose to make her community safe," Levenson said. "She gave a general warning. She did not tell individuals to make a run for it."
Levenson said she has yet to see a justification for any potential charges against the mayor.
"They can continue the political debate, but in terms of whether she's an accomplice or a co-conspirator or obstructing justice I don't think we've seen evidence of that," she said.
Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general who teaches at UC San Diego, said he was struck by the "the near open warfare between the local and federal authorities."
"Normally the federal government takes the lead and the state authorities follow in these sorts of things," he said. Now, "you have essentially an almost guerrilla movement by local authorities to try and undo federal law enforcement efforts."
Asked whether it would be possible for charges to be brought against the mayor, Litman said he thought it was not likely.
"That would be extraordinary," he said.
Schaaf and her supporters say she did the right thing.
"My statement on Saturday was meant to give all residents time to learn their rights and know their legal options," Schaaf said Tuesday in a statement. "It was my intention that one mother, or one father, would use the information to help keep their family together.
"I do not regret sharing this information. It is Oakland's legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws. We believe our community is safer when families stay together," she stated.
Among those at large are Oakland residents with multiple prior removals, said James Schwab, a spokesman for ICE in San Francisco, a field office that spans 49 counties from Bakersfield to the Oregon border. They include someone convicted of carrying a loaded firearm and selling drugs, and one suspected of transporting cocaine and having sex with a minor, he said.
Immigration detainers lodged against them have been "repeatedly ignored," Schwab said. "Instead they have been released back into the community to potentially reoffend."
In fiscal year 2017, ICE arrested 20,201 people across the state, Schwab said. Of those, he said, 81% had criminal convictions.
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