The federal government’s immigration authorities said a raid that arrested nearly 500 illegal immigrants across sanctuary cities focused on immigrants with criminal records.
But immigration activists in Philly say it was revenge by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against cities that have implemented “Sanctuary City” policies.
“Operation Safe City can only be described as a deliberate retaliation against cities and communities who refuse to cooperate with a racist, xenophobic and white supremacist administration in violating people’s rights,” said representatives of Juntos, a Latino community organization. “Philadelphia felt the brunt of this retaliation by having the largest number of people disappeared in the country, with 107 people picked up in four days, more than any other ICE office in the country.”
ICE acknowledged in a statement announcing the arrests that it “focused on cities and regions where ICE deportation officers are denied access to jails and prisons.”
ICE Acting Director Tom Homan said in a statement that sanctuary cities are “shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration. As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”
Along with Philly, ICE conducted other raids in cities which also have “Sanctuary City” policies, under which local law enforcement generally do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
These included 28 arrests in Baltimore, 30 in Chicago, 63 in Denver, 101 in Los Angeles, 45 in New York and 50 in the state of Massachusetts.
According to ICE, those taken into custody in the raid included immigrants with criminal convictions (317), immigration fugitives (68), previously deported criminal aliens (104) and gang members or affiliates (18). One immigrant arrested in Philadelphia, was described as a citizen of the Dominican Republic with previous gun possession convictions who had been released from local custody.
Juntos executive director Erika Almiron accusing ICE of pursuing “ethnic cleansing.”
“Public safety is about all of us being safe from the hands of Trump’s criminalization machine and cannot be defined by ICE agents who knock down the doors of our homes with guns and drag people out in front of their children,” Almiron said in a statement. “This is why we need to expand sanctuary in cities like Philadelphia and in our state.”
Juntos accused ICE of using “Gestapo style tactics in the name of public safety” during the raids.
“One local family reported that ICE raided their home wielding guns in front of several children, interrogating one of their daughters without parental consent and proceeded to fingerprint everyone in the household,” Juntos claimed. “Some who were handcuffed and removed were described as ‘collateral damage,’ meaning they had no reason to be detained other than being immigrants and are the victims of an agency and political climate that terrorizes and tears apart families.”
Philly’s sanctuary city policies have been strongly defended by Mayor Jim Kenney, who condemned the raids but did not comment on activists’ allegations of “retaliation.”
“When our immigrant communities cannot trust law enforcement, they are less likely to want to work with them to fight crime,” Kenney said in a statement. “Operation ‘Safe City’ does not make our city safer and further sows seeds of distrust between our police and immigrants.”