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Immigration Crackdowns Will Happen Despite Sanctuary Policies, Justice Officials Vow

In a joint letter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said immigration crackdowns will take place in public more often in response to sanctuary city policies.

Last updated on March 31, 2017, at 9:21 p.m. ET

Posted on March 31, 2017, at 9:21 p.m. ET

Richard Drew / AP

Local jurisdictions that don't fully cooperate with immigration officials may see more enforcement operations in public places, despite the outcry, according to a recent letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

Such enforcement operations typically take place at the residences or places of employment of targeted individuals, and usually during predawn hours. But in a joint letter to California's Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye on Thursday, Sessions and Kelly said local officials can expect more arrests in public places if they refuse to cooperate with immigration officers.

"Some jurisdictions, including the state of California and many of its largest counties and cities, have enacted statutes and ordinances designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law by prohibiting communication with ICE, and denying requests by ICE officers and agents to enter prisons and jails to make arrests," the letter states. "As a result, ICE officers and agents are required to locate and arrest these aliens in public places."

The letter was in response to Cantil-Sakauye's request that ICE agents stop "stalking" courthouses to arrest people suspected of being in the US illegally. She cited concerns that victims and witnesses involved in non-immigration cases could begin to avoid courthouses for fear of being detained over their immigration status.

The letter from Sessions and Kelly appears to confirm at least some of the concerns of officials across the US who have seen increased activity by ICE agents on their streets after declaring, or reaffirming, their status as sanctuary jurisdictions.

Sanctuary cities don't fully cooperate with immigration authorities to varying degrees — some don't allow ICE agents in their jails, other don't honor federal detention requests. Many bar local authorities from inquiring about someone's status.

In California, counties are not allowed to hold inmates past the term of their sentence or after they post bond. Though some counties notify ICE officials when undocumented immigrants will be released, they are not allowed to hold them past that time despite federal requests.

Handout . / Reuters

Some cities have doubled-down on their sanctuary policies in response to President Trump and his recent executive orders making practically everyone living in the US a priority for deportation. Sessions has also threatened to cut federal funding to uncooperative cities in retaliation.

California is currently considering a bill that would effectively impose some sanctuary policies statewide, such as limiting contact between local jurisdictions and ICE. But even before the joint letter from Sessions and Kelly, some law enforcement agencies were told they could expect more immigration enforcement on the streets.

"We were told if we were to do that, if the Senate bill were to pass, [ICE] would be in our streets looking for the same people in a residential area," Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who serves as president of the California State Sheriffs' Association, told BuzzFeed News.

Youngblood said he was also told that if ICE agents come across other undocumented immigrants while looking for a specific individual in those operations, those people would also be taken into custody.

"They could be deported as well," he said.

The flurry and fear of ICE raids in immigrant communities has also prompted Latino congressional leaders to reach out to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Thursday sent a letter asking Sessions and Kelly to address reports that ICE was specifically targeting sanctuary cities as a way to compel them to cooperate.

ICE officials would not comment on the letter, but told BuzzFeed News that any suggestion that the raids were meant to pressure sanctuary cities was false.

"The claim that ICE is increasing actions in 'sanctuary cities' to pressure them is inaccurate," David Lapan, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, told BuzzFeed News. "ICE conducts targeted enforcement operations throughout the country based on investigative leads and intelligence."

Some, however, remain unconvinced.

A federal judge in Texas earlier this month said in court that he was told ICE would be conducting "a big operation" in Travis County as a result of the sheriff's new policy to not comply with ICE detention requests.

"My understanding is, one of the reasons that happened was because the meetings that occurred with the field office director and the sheriff didn't go very well," US Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin told the agent.

In Oregon, where the governor has recently signed an executive order that prohibits all state agencies from cooperating with ICE officials, elected officials said they too have seen more ICE operations.

Oregon State Rep. Teresa Alonso León has since filed a Freedom of Information Act request with DHS, asking for documents to find out how the agency was deciding which operations to undertake.

"Our families in general are now afraid to go to school, church, work," she told BuzzFeed News. "Some of our community members agree that perhaps they are targeting Oregon because we are a sanctuary state, but we don't know that for a fact."

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