A day after California lawmakers decried a renewed call from U.S. Atty. Gen Jeff Sessions to strip so-called sanctuary cities of federal funds, an appearance Tuesday by the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a Sacramento town hall meeting touched off emotional reactions from protesters and officials there seeking answers about deportations and other actions in the state.
Speaking at a packed gym in Sacramento, Thomas D. Homan, acting director of the federal immigration agency, said immigration officials do not target immigrants at churches or students at schools. Nor do they seek out victims at hospitals, he said, or witnesses at courthouses.
But the community forum, hosted by Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones to dispel what he called “misinformation” about the role of law enforcement in immigration enforcement, got off to a rough start.
Hundreds of Sacramento residents shouted, listened and asked questions while acting ICE Director Thomas Homan and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones held a community forum about immigration.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan, left, and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones are framed by protest signs during a community forum about immigration.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Audience members at the town hall meeting protest.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan, left, addresses the crowd. “We focus our resources first on those who are a national security threat and those who are a public safety threat,” he said.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
A protest is held outside before the town hall meeting. “Sacramento is open to anyone who wants to pursue the California and American dream,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg told the crowd.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Two protesters are removed from the community forum.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
“We prioritize criminals,” Homan told an audience of roughly 300 people. “We focus our resources first on those who are a national security threat and those who are a public safety threat.”
Attendees shouted and cursed, chanted and held up protest signs. “Lies!” some yelled when the officials said authorities did not target immigrants who did not pose a danger to the community.
“Where is the money, Jones?” others asked when the sheriff attempted to explain ICE immigration detention contracts, a budget he said totaled $4.8 million for his department.
“You are bringing the uncertainty,” one man shouted at Homan before deputies escorted him out. “You are bringing the uncertainty to everybody.”
The event captured the tensions building between law enforcement agencies and local communities as the Trump administration has expanded national immigration enforcement orders. It also provided a glimpse into the discord brewing between the federal government and state and local leaders in California, where lawmakers are weighing a bill from state Senate leader Kevin de León that could expand sanctuary city policies statewide by preventing law enforcement agencies from using resources to detain, question and deport immigrants.
It was the first time Homan had addressed a town hall meeting since his appointment in January. In response to a member of the audience who asked why he came to Sacramento — and to a state that is home to a large community of activists billing themselves “the resistance” — Homan said he came to Sacramento because Jones asked him to.
Speaking before the at-capacity crowd, Jones, a staunch critic of illegal immigration who lost a race for Congress last November, said he wanted to host the forum to provide facts, not change minds, and was there not as a politician, but in his public safety role.
“We felt it was important to bring the community to us and answer questions from the community as well,” he said. “For our part, we don’t ask immigration status — that is not our role.”
Among the community members who took to a microphone to pose questions to Homan and Jones were De León and former Democratic state Senate leader and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. They asked officials to clarify their stances on sanctuary cities and enforcement actions.
Homan drew boos from the crowd when he said there were additional facts unknown to the public in the cases of immigrants who had been picked up at courthouses and near schools over the last few months.
At a rally outside before the event, Steinberg and De León said California would defend its diverse population and immigrant community, which they said had helped fuel the state’s economy to become one of the most important in the world.
“Today the people of Sacramento have come together once again in civil, solemn and peaceful demonstration to stand in unity and solidarity with one another,” Steinberg said. “Sacramento is open to anyone who wants to pursue the California and American dream.”
Outside the gym, scores of protesters gathered, chanting and waving signs with messages including “Stay Loud,” “Fight White Supremacy” and “Immigrants are not criminals.”
Speaking into a megaphone, they urged support for legislation to turn California into a sanctuary state.
“We don’t put up with our local officials doing Trump’s dirty work,” said Salvador Sarmiento, a national campaign coordinator for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Times staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.