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Former ICE chief says raids announced for political gain, endangering migrants, agents

"I think it's frankly inexcusable to promote this operation before it happens," said John Sandweg, former acting director of the agency.
Image: John Sandweg
John Sandweg, with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, speaks during a news conference on counterfeit merchandise at the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII media center in New York on Jan. 30, 2014.Byline Withheld / AP file

LOS ANGELES — Immigration raids scheduled to take place in at least nine U.S. cities Sunday could be mass, indiscriminate roundups that target entire families rather than those who pose a threat, says a former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

John Sandweg, who worked for the Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2014, including a stint as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was critical of the Trump administration's continued broadcasting of Sunday's ICE enforcement action against an estimated 2,000 families with members said to be the subject of deportation orders.

Sandweg said in an interview Friday that the announcements were for political gain and could endanger law enforcement agents, cause felons to hide and discourage immigrants from reporting criminals.

"We've never seen anything like this," he said. "I think it's frankly inexcusable to promote this operation before it happens. It just puts the officers in danger, and completely diminishes the effectiveness of the operation itself."

Sandweg said it becomes perilous for agents when subjects, particularly those with violent pasts, know when and where they will show up.

"All you're doing is giving the alert to potential individuals who are going to be targets of this operation who may intend to hurt ICE agents," he said.

The former ICE boss said those who know they are targets could end up fleeing and hiding out. In his time at the helm of ICE, Sandweg said, "Word would get out in the community that ICE was conducting a large-scale operation, and our effectiveness would diminish significantly.

"The targets would no longer be in the residence because they knew we were out there on the streets and knew to hide," he continued. "Unfortunately, I think what we're gonna find here is a lot of folks who pose no threat to public safety are gonna be apprehended by this operation."

The final and perhaps most long-term impact of publicized raids, Sandweg said, is damaged relations with immigrant communities.

"I absolutely expect that the administration intends to arrest every single one of those individuals when they go to those types of homes, even if the intended target is not there when they arrive," Sandweg said.

He argued that if decreasing crime and removing criminals is the goal of law enforcement agencies like ICE, then casting such a visible and wide net would discourage immigrants from cooperating with police and reporting law breakers. The New York Times reported that people encountered with targeted immigrants could also be detained and deported if they are in the U.S. without proper documentation.

"We need to be able to have a trusting relationship with people in the immigrant communities so they point us out to where the bad guys are," he said. "Obviously you eliminate that when you talk about these kind of raids targeting non-criminal family populations."

Image: Activists Protest At ICE Headquarters In San Francisco
Protesters hold signs during a demonstration outside of the San Francisco office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in San Francisco on July 12, 2019.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

On Friday, Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore reiterated that his officers, like those in some other cities named by ICE as raid locations, including Chicago and San Francisco, will not be participating.

"The Los Angeles Police Department is committed to protecting our residents through community outreach, engagement, and relationship building with strict adherence to the law," he said in a statement.

Sandweg said he can only conclude that Trump, who first tweeted about "removing millions of illegal aliens" from the country on the eve of his re-election announcement, is using the raids to whip up voter support.

"I don't see any reason to publicize this operation but for political reasons," he said. "There is absolutely no operational reason, period, to publicize these raids."

Patterson reported from Los Angeles and Romero from San Diego.