FILE ART-ICE agent stands over two men handcuffed on the sidewalk.
SAN FRANCISCO - Federal immigration officials are reportedly preparing for a major sweep in Northern California after the director of ICE threatened to target California for becoming a sanctuary state.
Officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement plan to arrest more than 1,500 undocumented immigrants, mostly in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, citing a source familiar with the operation.
In a letter to ICE's acting director issued on Wednesday, representing California, U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris asked to be "immediately" briefed on the reports of raids. The letter refers to the Chronicle report and the claim that ICE is sending additional personnel to California to increase the number of raids.
"We are deeply concerned that rather than focusing efforts on violent criminals, raids carried out in neighborhoods and workplaces could result in the deportation of individuals who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time," the letter read. "We firmly believe that law enforcement must prioritize dangerous criminals and not undocumented immigrants who do not pose a threat to public safety," they added.
"This is wrong," U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) said in a statement, echoing what others in the California congressional delegation feel. "The administration is targeting immigrants to make a political statement. Immigrants are the backbone of our country and such raids will only incite fear in our communities and undermine public safety. We must stand up for their rights.”
ICE spokesman James Schwab told KTVU in an email on Wednesday that “we don’t speculate about future enforcement actions.” He also would not comment further – nor speculate – on the Chronicle’s source.
The news comes weeks after the Trump administration's ICE director Thomas Homan expressed anger over California becoming a sanctuary state, telling Fox News, "California better hold tight."
In the joint letter from the senators, Feinstein and Harris expressed concern at Homan's statement from the Fox interview.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a statement following the threat of ICE raids in sanctuary cities.
"Oakland's sanctuary policies are legal and were written to keep our families together. our city will continue to fight against any law or policy that seeks to tear families apart," she wrote.
She included information for those who face "imminent deportation" and encouraged those residents to call a 24-7 Rapid Response Hotline at 510-241-4011 from Centro Legal de la Raza. Residents can seek legal assistance or report the detention of individuals through ICE raids.
"Oakland’s immigrant communities are the backbone of our city. The rumors of retaliatory ICE raids are designed to instill fear in our neighborhoods and put pressure on elected officials. Not us, not here. Not in Oakland," the mayor added.
In addition, ICE conducted raids about a week ago in other sanctuary jurisdictions, from California to Florida, at 7-Eleven stores, as a signal to businesses not to hired undocumented workers.
The sanctuary state law limits California's cooperation with federal immigration authorities, although it does allow police to cooperate with ice to hand over people wanted for violent felonies. But the law forbids police from arresting people simply because of their undocumented status.
Coincidentally, in Oakland, the city council unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday to cut all ties with ICE, including having Oakland police provide "traffic support" to ICE agents. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan had sponsored this legislation. Oakland police had assisted ICE this summer, when agents said they were conducting a human trafficking investigation.
However, an East Bay Express investigation in November showed that there had been no human trafficking convictions in Oakland in the last 10 years.
According to the report from the Chronicle, the immigration sweeps are expected to take place in workplaces and public places in the coming weeks.
University of San Francisco immigration law professor Bill Hing said that it's possible even legal residents and U.S. citizens could get swept up in such an immigration raid, which could open ICE up to civil rights lawsuits.
Activists have been urging people to document the raids on video for evidence.
KTVU's Lisa Fernandez and Andre Torrez contributed to this report.