The message: Not only will Oakland and its police force not cooperate with ICE, but the city will actively seek to thwart efforts to detain and deport immigrants.
OAKLAND, Calif. — The relationship between U.S. immigration officials and California’s liberal leaders soured long ago, but Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to warn potential targets of federal arrest that an immigration sweep could be imminent was an extraordinary escalation.
Schaaf said she issued the alert Saturday night after receiving tips from “credible sources” who acted outside “official channels” when they revealed that U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, known as ICE, was planning arrests across the Bay Area as soon as Sunday.
She and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick discussed the reports before Schaaf concluded the information was solid enough to go public, according to people familiar with her thinking. Schaaf said she also conferred with “legal counsel” to make sure she wasn’t opening herself up to federal prosecution.
The news release that resulted — which Schaaf said was intended “not to panic our residents but to protect them” — was among the most assertive maneuvers by a local politician to counter the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The message: Not only will Oakland and its police force not cooperate with ICE, but the city will actively seek to thwart efforts to detain and deport immigrants.
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“I know that Oakland is a city of law-abiding immigrants and families who deserve to live free from the constant threat of arrest and deportation,” Schaaf said in her Saturday night statement. “I believe it is my duty and moral obligation as Mayor to give those families fair warning when that threat appears imminent.”
ICE did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Schaaf’s action. Officials provided a statement to KGO-TV saying, “There are ICE operations every day and it is unclear what the mayor is referring to.”
Reaction to the mayor’s move was swift and harsh from those who favor strong immigration enforcement. Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that advocates for decreased immigration, called Schaaf’s statement a “political stunt.”
“This is pretty irresponsible on the part of a public official,” Vaughan said. “To the extent this results in people being able to hide from ICE and shelter in the community inevitably creates more victims. It also creates fear in the community. She may or may not have good information.”
But Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was among those who supported the move, saying, “We can and must protect immigrant families from Donald Trump’s mass deportations. I want to thank Mayor Schaaf for her courage and hope more local leaders will follow her lead.”
At a news conference Sunday in the city’s heavily Latino Fruitvale neighborhood, Schaaf said she had notified mayors of other Bay Area cities of the imminent sweep and felt “confident that my sharing of this information, because I did not receive it through official channels, is legal.”
Asked why she would want to interfere in ICE’s ability to make arrests in Oakland, Schaaf did not answer directly. She said only that she had been told the targets of the sweep were wanted for immigration violations, not as suspects in crimes.
She referred to Oakland nurse Maria Mendoza-Sanchez, who with her husband was deported last year after more than two decades in the United States. The couple left behind four children who have legal status.
“Oakland is full of Marias,” Schaaf said.
Had Schaaf given particular people specific details of a secret operation and advised them to leave, her actions might have gotten closer to obstruction of justice, said University of California, Berkeley, law Professor Charles Weisselberg.
The mayor’s move puts her in the center of an intensifying clash between the Trump administration and Democratic leaders in California, where last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed a statewide sanctuary law.
Oakland had long been a sanctuary city before the legislation, meaning it restricts cooperation between employees and U.S. immigration officers in a bid to convince undocumented residents that they can freely access education, health and public-safety resources.
However, as recently as last year the city’s police officers were allowed to work in tandem with ICE’s criminal enforcement arm, Homeland Security Investigations. That all changed through a series of measures passed by the City Council in response to public outcry.
In July, the council tore up an agreement that allowed Oakland police officers to work with federal agents on cases of human trafficking, drug smuggling and other cross-border crimes. Community members had questioned the necessity of the partnership.
But a month later, Schaaf and Chief Kirkpatrick came under fire after city police provided traffic enforcement for federal officers during an investigation into alleged human trafficking at a West Oakland home. In response, the City Council passed another resolution barring all forms of assistance to ICE, including traffic support during investigations.