Many activists say Bowser — who has not yet publicly commented on the raid — has flubbed that opportunity, but the mayor's office says its ability to help is limited by congressional Republicans, who have previously forbidden Bowser from using taxpayer money to assist undocumented immigrants in fighting deportation.
"Bowser should be doing more," said Ana Rondon, an activist who came to the District from the Dominican Republic when she was a child. "These immigrants are paying taxes. They are doing what the government wants. She should be protecting them."
In the District, five of the 14 immigrants arrested had previous criminal convictions, ICE spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said.
One was a Salvadoran citizen with previous convictions for possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition. Another was a Mexican citizen who had a felony conviction for cocaine possession, she said. ICE is not releasing the names of the individuals to protect their privacy, she said.
Bowser's administration shares activists' concerns about the raids, spokeswoman LaToya Foster said.
"There is a lot we do not know about ICE's actions, but what we do know is we are a sanctuary city and that we will continue to do everything we can to protect and defend all residents," she said.
During a march from ICE headquarters to the mayor's office on Wednesday, about two dozen activists carrying colorful butterfly signs, which are a symbol of migration, demanded that Bowser publicly denounce the raid and pay legal fees for the 14 D.C. residents who were arrested.
"As far as we know, this is the first big raid in D.C. under this administration," said Mary Small, a member of Sanctuary DMV and one of the organizers of Wednesday's march. "This moment is a big deal for D.C."
Bowser has vowed to protect D.C.'s status as a "sanctuary city" regardless of threats from the Trump administration. But she also has a tenuous relationship with some immigration activists, who confronted her in an angry demonstration at a public library in November where they charged that she had not done enough to denounce Trump's immigration policies.
Days before Trump took office, and a month after the library demonstration, Bowser joined a handful of leaders in heavily Democratic cities in launching a legal-defense fund for undocumented immigrants. The $500,000 fund, which was included in the city's budget for this fiscal year, makes tax dollars available to help immigrants renew Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival permits (commonly referred to as the "dreamers" program), apply for citizenship and asylum and petition for family members to become citizens, among other things.
Unlike funds in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, the D.C. fund does not provide money for lawyers who represent adults who have been detained, such as the 14 D.C. residents who were arrested last week.
Bowser spokeswoman Susana Castillo said the mayor's office is considering expanding the grant so it can be used to represent adults in detention.
"But the program already faces considerable pressure from certain Republican foes of immigration in Congress, and due to the District's lack of statehood, we are always vulnerable to congressional interference," Castillo said.
Weeks after Bowser introduced the fund in January, then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), head of the subcommittee for District affairs, warned Bowser that her plan appeared to violate federal law, which says taxpayer money cannot be used to assist undocumented immigrants fighting deportation.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who succeeded Chaffetz as chairman of the Oversight Committee, did not respond to a request for comment about whether the investigation is ongoing.
Immigrants in detention are some of the most vulnerable, said Avideh Moussavian, a senior policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. Unlike criminal defendants in the United States, noncitizens facing deportation are in civil immigration proceedings and are thus not constitutionally guaranteed counsel if they cannot afford an attorney. Because it is a federal process, they can be sent to courts across the country, separated from their families and support systems, Moussavian said.
"There is a huge degree of vulnerability," Moussavian said. "For people who are already in detention, their prospects for fighting deportation are lowest."
She said anything cities can do — whether helping immigrants apply for relief from deportation or supporting them once they are already in the court system — is a good thing.
"What we're seeing is local and state governments trying to fill the gap that is so neglected at the federal level," she said.
Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at the New York University School of Law, said legal defense funds that cities have started were "not considered anywhere in the realm of possibility until last year."
"Public money spent on people who are not authorized to be here — it was not an easy public sell," he said. "But it's amazing how much Trump's rhetoric made possible."