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WATCH: Senior ICE official explains challenges his agency encounters with sanctuary cities

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Photo: Sinclair Broadcast Group

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Acting Director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thomas D. Homan sat down for a one-on-one interview with Michelle Macaluso to discuss some of the challenges he faces when dealing with undocumented immigration, sanctuary cities, as well local and state jurisdictions.

Below is a transcript of what he had to say:

WHAT HAPPENS IF CITIES REFUSE TO COOPERATE WITH FEDERAL IMMIGRATION AUTHORITIES?

Homan: Well a couple of things. The Department of Justice is looking at those at those jurisdictions now that don't cooperate under the federal laws. So, they're looking at stopping grant funding. They're looking at maybe taking some sort of action, legal action, against the jurisdictions.
When it comes to ICE, it's for those jurisdictions that don't want to cooperate - especially when I talk about sanctuary cities; you know, there are a lot of definitions about what a sanctuary city is. When I talk about sanctuary cities, I'm talking about those jurisdictions that proactively decide they are not going to allow my officers in the county jail. They are going to release criminal aliens back onto the street rather than handing them over to ICE. That is what I call a sanctuary city.
So, for those people - those jurisdictions that choose that path, there is a lot that happens. Number one, they put their very immigrant communities, they say they are protecting their immigrant communities, let's get something straight. Most of these criminal aliens in the county jail that they have released back into the community are going back into the immigrant community to re-offend and victimize the very immigrant communities the sanctuary cities say they are protecting. Just as important is, rather than my officers taking custody of a dangerous person in the safety and security of a country jail, now we have to go find that person. So, we have to go to their homes. We have to go to their place of employment. And it takes a lot more people to do that because now they have access to who know what weapons? So, it makes our job a lot more dangerous. The men and women of ICE, who chose this profession, who you know strap a gun to their hip every day and put their own safety in jeopardy, their risk has been quadrupled. Now, you have to arrest this bad guy in public, when you could have arrested him in the safety and security of a county jail. and victimize the very immigrant communities the sanctuary cities say they are protecting. Just as important is, rather than my officers taking custody of a dangerous person in the safety and security of a country jail, now we have to go find that person. So, we have to go to their homes. We have to go to their place of employment. And it takes a lot more people to do that because now they have access to who know what weapons? So, it makes our job a lot more dangerous. The men and women of ICE, who chose this profession, who you know strap a gun to their hip every day and put their own safety in jeopardy, their risk has been quadrupled. Now, you have to arrest this bad guy in public, when you could have arrested him in the safety and security of a county jail.

IS PUBLIC SAFETY AT RISK IF THEY DON'T COOPERATE?

Yes. If you really want to protect the immigrant community, then let me take custody of the criminal inside that county jail. Because when I go out to the community looking for them, go to a home or place of business, Chances are I'm going to find other illegal aliens that weren't even on our radar. Now they are going to be standing in front of me. Which means more people who are not targets of the operation will be arrested. So sanctuary cities, do they protect the immigrant community? We just said you are putting criminals back in those very communities to victimize the immigrant community. There is going to be more arrests in those immigrant communities and more not targeted arrests. Which we call collateral arrests. So, they are actually putting the immigrant community at greater risk of ICE arrest. They put them at greater risk of violence from the criminal alien back in the community.
If you go and ask the immigrant community: "Would you rather have ice agents in your neighborhood or in a county jail?" I am certain the immigrant community would say, "I'd rather have him in a country jail arresting the bad guy, rather than in my community." I'd tell you, you know, that is a mixed message that sanctuary cities are giving.
There is one more final piece to this. Sanctuary cities now that it is out there and people are fighting the whole narrative of sanctuary cities, the criminal organizations of Mexico and Central America use sanctuary cities to further their illegal enterprise.
If people don't think these criminal organizations in Mexico and Central America isn't using sanctuary cities as a selling point. Look, I'll get you to the United States. I'll sneak you into the country it's going to cost you this much money. I can even get you to a so-called sanctuary city where you can even be arrested for a crime and the local police department is not going to turn you over to ICE.
So, they're bankrolling the very criminal organizations that smuggle guns, smuggle bad people, smuggle drugs; they don't care what they smuggle. Most of these criminal organizations smuggle people are involved in all these other illicit trades. So, we're bankrolling the very criminal organizations that have killed Border Patrol agents that have killed my special agents. So, there is no go to come of this at all.
I'll leave one more final point. I hear from the sanctuary jurisdictions they want to protect the immigrant community the victims that witness a crime to come forward. First of all, if ICE identifies a victim or witness of a crime, there are certain benefits we can give to these victims and witnesses. So, it is not a bad thing. We don't know they exist unless the local jurisdictions are going to arrest these victims and witnesses we are never going to find them in the county jail correct?
Every point they make about why they think sanctuary jurisdictions are not necessary to protect the immigrant community are false. It is actually an inaccurate statement they are making and that is why I'm out there trying to set the record straight on what we are doing and why we are doing it.

SO, WHY DOES ICE ISSUE A DETAINER REQUEST?

So the person does not get released from the county jail. Now, you are going to hear the argument that some jurisdictions... "Well some courts found the detainer to be unconstitutional" and why we litigate this in the national courts, fine. Look at the detainers. Detainers say a couple of things. They ask to hold them for 48 hours after they are done with them so we can have time to pick them up. But there is also an option on that detainer, call us 48 hours in advance. Call us before you release him on your charges. You don't have to hold them a minute past when you would normally hold them. Just call us saying, "hey he is going to be released at this time, on this date," and we will be there to take custody of him. There is absolutely no risk of litigation there because they're not holding them one minute longer than they would. That is just law enforcement cooperation.

IS THERE A DISCREPANCY BETWEEN HOLDING THEM FOR 48 HOURS VERSUS LETTING YOU KNOW THAT...

Some courts have ruled that holding them beyond the time that the jurisdiction would normally hold a person on criminal charges is a violation of their rights. There is other court decisions saying, no it's not. So, I say that is something that is being litigated in courts. But my point is we have over 3,000 county jails in this country. I would say that 75 percent work with us. And some of those that don't honor our detainers, will do exactly what I explained. They'll call us before they release the person into the general public. Because we have told them we know that criminal alien is in there, he is in the country illegally which is a crime in itself. And we think he is a public safety threat. Turn him over to us. Even the jurisdictions that don't want to honor our detainer still work with us. They still give us access to the jail and they us in advance before they release them. That is law enforcement cooperating with law enforcement.
There are some sanctuary jurisdictions out there that don't even do that. They want to release the public safety threat back into the public which is just bad policy.

SO LIKE YOU SAID THESE SANCTUARY JURISDICTIONS ARE NOT COOPERATING OR THEY DONT HAVE TO COOPERATE WITH FEDERAL AUTHORITIES. HOW DOES THAT HURT YOUR LAW ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS TO GO AFTER THESE UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS?


When we talk to a criminal alien someone who has committed a crime, they are a public safety threat. If they are not a public safety threat, why are they locked up in a county jail? So, let's start with there. So some county jails will say "well you want to come in and arrest low-level offenders." Low-level offenders? You locked them up in your cell. They are locked up in a county cell for some reason. You've chosen to enforce your law, take his liberties away and put him in a cell. And what I'm saying is, if we have to arrest someone that is a danger to the community and they have already ascertained that he is a danger because they have him locked up, let my officers take custody in the jail. Can we take custody in the jail? We know he doesn't have weapons. We are surrounded by law enforcement it is more security and it is safer. It is safer for the officers; it is safer for the alien to take custody inside the county jail. But when they release them, my job is to locate and rest them and remove them. That is my job that is the oath we have taken and that is the law that Congress has enacted say. My job is to execute those laws.

SO IT MAKES IT TOUGHER TO DO YOUR JOB?

Number one, we've got to find them. These are people that don't want to be found. So, it takes a lot more effort a lot more resources to find them once they get released. Number two, we are knocking on doors now. It is not taking custody of a public safety threat in the safety of a county jail; we are knocking on a door, which means they can have access to weapons, there are going to be fights. I mean the assault on my officers is up over 50 percent. Failure to comply to our arrests are up way over 50 percent. So, our officers put a great physical risk of arresting somebody in their homes or place of business or on the street. When they could have taken custody of them in the safety of a county jail.

WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE TO GET LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO COOPERATE?

Getting the truth out, which I'm doing with you today. Talk about why this is important. Talk about the story about sanctuary cities, how it protects immigrant communities is not accurate. Talk about what ICE actually does. There are stories out there on ICE arrests people at schools, at churches, we arrest people at hospitals. Now, I want to be perfectly clear on something. ICE has never arrested somebody on school grounds in this past year. We haven't arrested anybody in a hospital. We haven't arrested anybody in church. So, let's get the trough out and that's why this interview helps get the truth out. If you look at what we did last year, in the last fiscal year. You look at who we arrested, 89 percent - nine out of every 10 people we arrested had a criminal history.
People say we are out doing indiscriminate arrests; we are doing raids we are doing sweeps of neighborhoods. Untrue. We don't do raids; we don't do sweeps. Everybody we go to arrest is a targeted enforcement operation. We know exactly who we are going to arrest. We know exactly where to look for them based on a lot of investigative intelligence work. So, there is no massive raids or sweeps. They are targeted arrests based on a lot of background work and intelligence.
If you look at the numbers last year, nine out of 10 people has a criminal history. For those people to say we are out there indiscriminately arresting everybody, separating families. The numbers tell a completely different story.
The men and women of ICE are prioritizing there work. Nine out of every 10 people we arrest are criminals. You know our three priorities last year were criminals, those that are a threat to public safety and to national security. Fugitives, these people had due processing a great taxpayer experience; they have been ordered to be removed by a judge but didn't leave. Third, those that re-enter the country after being informally removed which is a felony. They were our three priorities last year.
If you look at everybody we arrested last year, 92 percent fell within those three priories. Now, if we talk about the remaining 8 percent, what we call collateral arrests. Where do you think most of those collateral arrests took place? It took place in a sanctuary city. Because we were forced to go into a neighborhood where we found other people that weren't targets of the operation we had to take action. Under the new executive order, we don't turn a blind eye anymore.

SO ICE MADE TWICE AS MANY NONCRIMINAL ARRESTS IN THE GOVERNMENTS 2017 FISCAL YEAR. MORE THAN TWICE THE PREVIOUS YEAR. SO, WHAT IS CONTRIBUTING TO THAT?

Well, the priorities have changed, right? Under the last administration, the Obama administration, noncriminals were not a priority. This president has made them a priority. But again when we talk about noncriminals who are those noncriminals? They are either reentrance, which means they were formally removed by this government they re-entered illegally which is a felony, they may not be charged with a felony but they committed a felony. So, these non-criminals, criminals means you haven't been convicted right? So, if you look at the noncriminal population, a vast majority over 90 percent of them are fugitives in reentrance. Reentrance I told you is a felony by the fact that they re-enter the county illegally. Fugitives these are people that had their due process. Great taxpayer expense, this country spends billions of dollars a year on border security, immigration court, detention. So, we give these folks due process. And a federal judge makes the decision that says " You know what? You have to leave this country. Here is your order," and they failed to leave.
They were a priority this last- and they are noncriminals but they are fugitives. So, if you look at who these noncriminals but they are fugitives on re-entrance. Which is the right thing to do? I get asked all the time, "Why did you arrest this person that has been there 10 years and he has a U.S. citizen child, two U.S. citizen children?" Because he has due process.
If a federal judge after all these billions of dollars of taxpayer money has been spent, we give that person due process and the decision is made by a federal judge from a bench. If that order doesn't mean anything. If we don't execute that order, then there is no integrity in the entire system. Why don't we just open the border up because no one can be - You can get an order from a judge after great due process if you can just choose to ignore it you are never going to fix the border problem. If the message we want to send to the rest of the world is come into this country illegally, which is a crime first of all entering this country illegally. Two, go have great due process at great taxpayer expense and get a final order, but you don't have to listen to it? Go have a U.S. citizen child and think that now that you have a U.S. citizen child now you are immune from the law, you have amnesty? If that is the message we want to keep sending the country, you are never going to solve the immigration crisis. We got to send a clear message. This country is a country of laws. There is a right way to come into this country and the is a wrong way. You got to come the right way.

THE DEADLINE FOR WHAT TO DO WITH THE SO-CALLED DREAMERS IS COMING UP ON CAPITOL HILL AT THE BEGINNING OF MARCH. WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO THESE DREAMERS THAT MIGHT BE WORRIED ABOUT BEING DEPORTED?

Look if people think we have some mass operation where we are going to go target DACA recipients that is not going to go happen. As I just explained to you, the 89 percent being criminal arrests last year the 92 percent fugitive re-entry criminal our prioritization is not going to change.
Now I say this, and I keep saying, nobody is off the table form immigration enforcement. But we do prioritize the work we do. I would say this, and I have said it many time before, the Congress is working on a fix and I hope they come up with something.
My job isn't so much to decide, my job is to execute a mission within the framework provided to me. I am a law enforcement officer and we are a law enforcement agency. So, we will do whatever Congress decides. If they enact a law we will enforce it. If we repeal a law we're stopping enforcing it. But there is not going to be no a big sweep of DACA people if they either come late with a fix or don't get a fix at all. But I will say this, there should not be a clean DACA bill. I know a lot of people who say just give a clean DACA bill we'll talk about immigration reform later. Absolutely not, I've been doing this for 34 years. This is my 34th year doing this. We have got to stop kicking that can down the road.
If you want to give DACA the 1.8 million whether they are talking about doing... If you want to do that its fine but let's address the underlying causes of illegal immigration while we are having this discussion. Let's finally fix a problem rather than just put a Band-Aid on it.

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO SANCTUARY CITIES, SANCTUARY LOCAL JURISDICTIONS. CALIFORNIA THE GOVERNOR THERE, JERRY BROWN, HAS JUST ANNOUNCED THAT THE STATE WILL BE A SANCTUARY STATE. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO HIM?

If you really care about public safety, then help me take these public safety threats out of your community. Because not only can we prevent the public safety threat, a criminal going back into the immigrant community to re-offend, we can remove them from the country. They are here in violation of federal law. And I have said it many times. I do not blame anybody for wanting to be a part of the greatest country on earth that is who we are the greatest country on earth. But you can't want to be a part of the greatest country on earth and not respect its laws. You can't have it both ways anymore.
There is a right way to come into this country. This is a very very giving country. Millions of aliens have come in this country the right way. Become U.S. citizens. You know we are a very welcoming nation. We bring in more refugees in this country than another other nation, many other nations combined. There is a right way and a wrong way. We have to do it the right way. And I'm asking Congress to fix it. It is in a position to fix this.
Instead of people protesting ICE and standing out front of our building. You know vilifying the men and women of ICE. The 20 thousand American heroes that strap a gun to their hip every day. Put their own safety at risk for this country. Instead of vilifying them for doing their job upholding their oath to enforce laws. Go protest Congress. Tell them to change the law tell them to fix the law. Whatever they want to do. Don't vilify the men and women of ice for simply just doing their job and upholding the oath they have taken.

BACK TO SANCTUARY CITIES. WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE? WHAT HAPPENS IF A LOCAL OFFICIALS DECIDED TO ABIDE BY THE FEDERAL LAW AND GO AGAINST STATE LAW OR THEIR LOCAL JURISDICTIONS LAW AND HAND OVER THESE UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS TO ICE. IS THAT GOING TO CHANGE?

Look we are going to enforce federal law. They can call themselves a sanctuary city.

WHAT IF SOMEONE GETS ARRESTED? WHAT IF THEY VIOLATE LOCAL LAW AND THEY GET ARRESTED?

This is part of the problem we have asked Congress to address. When Congress starts talking about fixing DACA we were asked to send up. What do we need to fix the immigration problem? So once and for all, we can fix a problem rather than just put a Band-Aid on it. So we sent a lot of policy request up to the hill. I did. So did CBP. Laws we need changes policies we need changed. Judicial loopholes that have been given to us. Ask them to address some of these issues so we can fix the problem. One of the problems is I've asked for action on sanctuary jurisdictions. Is the Department of Justice looking at it? As you know they just sent out information to 19 of them asking for further documentation before they take action on them. I think there is going to be some decisions made but it is going to have to be made through the federal court system. So, I'm hoping that some decisions come from the federal courts. They are favorable to the enforcement of immigration laws in this country.
Again we are a sovereign country. We have right to decide who comes into this country and based on what I have told you in the last 10 -15 minutes I think if people are listening they know we proprieties what we do and we look at public safety threats first. And I would think local politicians who chose to be sanctuary cities, if they are listening to what I'm saying, I'm hoping it makes sense.
Because their number one job is to protect the citizens of their communities.

ONE ADVOCACY IMMIGRATION RIGHTS GROUPS WE TALKED TO SAID IF YOU WANT TO DO A DETAINER REQUEST THOSE LOCAL OFFICIALS DON'T HAVE TO ABIDE BY THAT AND THEY SAY GET A WARRANT.

Then my message to those people is read the law. There is no requirement under the U.S. immigration law for a criminal warrant to be issued to enforce federal immigration law. There is an administrative warrant. That was a process that was enacted by Congress. Congress created this law. So, they need to study the law a little closer. What I'm saying is even if they want to take that position which I think is inaccurate, there is nothing preventing that local jurisdiction from calling us up notifying us that they are going to release this person at a certain date. They don't have to execute the detainer at all. Call us before you release them we'll there and take custody of them. And let us remove them from your community. Obviously, you had them locked up for a reason. They are a public safety threat let us take further action and hold them accountable for laws they violated in the federal.
I mean what is next sanctuary cities from people that don't want to pay taxes? I mean where do we draw the line? These people are in violation of federal law. These county jails and these sheriffs who a vast majority of - vast majority report what I am saying but they have to follow either a state that California just pasted or some sort of rule they are required. But I work very closely with the national sheriff's accusation, major county sheriff associations, they are in my camp. They want to protect their community and do the right thing. So, they are also hoping for a fix here real quickly from Congress.

ANY FINAL MESSAGES FOR THOSE IN SANCTUARY CITES AND THOSE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS THERE?

I want to make one thing clear. I read a lot of stories and I kind of stop reading them after a while that I have threatened the state of California. That I am retaliating against the state of California through sanctuary laws they passed.
And I can tell you this when I say California better hold on tight and California going to see more officers which I said, which is the truth. I can tell you this it is not in retaliation or it is not a threat but you have forced me in that position. And let me explain why.
When you kick me out of your jail, one immigration officer is going to sit in that country jail and process 10 aliens a day. Great efficacy right? But when you release 10 aliens to the street, now I got to send the whole team to find them and arrest them and it takes more. Because now it's a dangerous situation. So, why did I have to send more agents to California? Because I had to because I got to do my job and they just made it a lot harder to do my job.
So, for those people that say, "well you threatened California." No, I responded to your decisions and I got to do my job so I have to send more resources to do my job. And that is exactly what I have done and I will continue to do. I would say if you really want - I read this all the time from some of the politicians some of the Congressmen over there. "Well, ICE really concentrates on criminal aliens, like the last administration not worry about everybody else." If you really want me to concentrate on criminal aliens, then let me in your country jail. You can't have them both ways. You're talking out both sides of your mouth. Concentrating on criminals but no, you can't have access to our jails. We are not going to give you criminals in the jails. If you want me to concentrate on criminals let me in your jail. Because it is simple math.
More people you have in a country jail, the less people you have in the neighborhood. So, it only makes sense if you really care about the immigrant community, if you really care about public safety, if you really care about prioritizing criminals. Then work with me and let me into the jail. It makes sense.
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