Oakland mayor moved by ICE spokesman’s resignation over claims 800 people eluded arrest in NorCal raids

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents carry out an operation in Los Angeles in February.
(Charles Reed / U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via Associated Press)

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Francisco resigned his post, disillusioned by what he called false claims spread by Trump administration officials after a four-day raid in Northern California last month, according to reports.

“I just couldn’t bear the burden, continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false,” James Schwab told CNN.

The story was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.


The controversy stems from the warning sent by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf before the raid, in which she urged immigrants in the country illegally to take precautions.

In a news release during the sweep, ICE’s acting director, Thomas Homan, said that “864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”

Homan later appeared on “Fox and Friends” and blasted Schaaf’s alert, saying she helped an estimated 800 “criminal aliens” avoid capture.

Schwab told CNN he thought that number was inflated.

“It’s a false statement because we never pick up 100% of our targets. And to say they’re a type of dangerous criminal is also misleading,” he said.

When he raised his concerns to ICE leadership, Schwab said he was instructed to “deflect to previous statements. Even though those previous statements did not clarify the wrong information.”

In a statement Tuesday, ICE walked back the remarks, saying it’s hard to know how many people avoided arrest due to Schaaf’s alert.


“Even one criminal alien on the street can put public safety at risk and as Director Homan stated, while we can’t put a number on how many targets avoided arrest due to the mayor’s warning, it clearly had an impact,” said ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson. “While we disagree with Mr. Schwab on this issue, we appreciate his service and wish him well.”

In an interview Tuesday, Schaaf said she was moved by Schwab’s decision to stand aside.

“I can’t tell you how touched I was that the ICE spokesman resigned over this incident, over the fact that he was being told to misrepresent the truth as a government servant, as a public servant,” Schaaf said. “I really honor him for that decision, because we really have to continue to... reclaim the trust that our residents, I believe, are losing in the institution of both government and democracy.”

U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions repeated the claim at the 26th annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day last week, saying agents “failed to make 800 arrests that they would have made if the mayor had not acted as she did.”

“Those are 800 wanted aliens that are now at large in that community — most are wanted criminals that ICE will now have to pursue with more difficulty in more dangerous situations, all because of one mayor’s irresponsible action,” Sessions said.

Last month’s sweep netted 232 arrests of people suspected of violating immigration laws. Of those, 115 had prior convictions for “serious or violent” crimes or “significant or multiple” misdemeanors.

Schwab called the mayor’s alert misguided and not responsible.

“I think she could have had other options,” he said. “But to blame her for 800 dangerous people out there is just false.”


Times staff writer Mark Barabak contributed to this report.

Twitter: @AleneTchek


11:35 a.m.: This story was updated with a quote from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

10:25 a.m.: This story was updated with a statement from ICE.

10:50 p.m.: This story was updated to reflect the story was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

This story was originally published March 12 at 10:15 p.m.