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Trump administration targets ‘sanctuary’ cities in latest wave of immigration arrests

ICE agents make an arrest. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

The Trump administration has arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants in cities that are hostile to the federal government’s deportation crackdown, the latest salvo in a growing battle over sanctuary jurisdictions.

Federal officials said Thursday that "Operation Safe City" specifically targeted some of the fiercest opponents of President Trump's immigration policies, including New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Washington.

In all, 498 immigrants, including 28 in Baltimore and 14 arrests in the District, were taken into custody in a four-day operation that ended Wednesday, officials said. Just under two-thirds of those arrested had criminal records in the United States.

“We are never going to stop enforcing the laws that we’re authorized and required to do,” said Matthew Albence, an executive associate director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “If we need to go into these locations every week, we will go into these locations every week to remove these public safety threats.”

The arrests were a provocative move by an administration that has attempted to penalize jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal deportation efforts but has met with resistance at every turn. Federal courts have largely blocked Trump's executive order in January that threatened to strip federal grant money from such cities and towns.

Hundreds of jurisdictions restrict how much their local officials can cooperate with immigration agents. Some limit their access to local jails or refuse to provide federal authorities with information about immigrants arrested for local crimes.

Administration officials say these cities shield criminals from deportation. But advocates for immigrants say police responsibilities do not include enforcing civil immigration laws and warn that doing so makes otherwise law-abiding immigrants less likely to report crimes.

“These raids are simply another attempt by the president and his anti-immigrant chiefs to bully cities into undermining the constitutional protections of all [their] residents, irrespective of their immigration status,” said U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Despite the administration's stepped-up arrest efforts, the latest data shows that the number of deportations has fallen over the past 12 months.

In New York City, officials said Thursday that they would stand by their policy of cooperating with immigration officials only in cases involving individuals who have been convicted of a serious or violent felony within the past five years, or who are on the terrorist watch list.

“New York City has the greatest number of immigrant residents we’ve had in a century, and are the safest we’ve been in modern history,” said Rosemary Boeglin, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “We will continue to voluntarily cooperate on requests from federal immigrant enforcement within the parameters of our local laws.”

Immigration officials said such decisions by cities force them to arrest people on the streets, which could endanger federal agents and the public, rather than focusing their efforts on immigrants who are in jail for local crimes and eligible for deportation.

Officials said there have been 37 assaults against immigration authorities this fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1, compared to nine in fiscal 2016.

During this week’s arrest operation, officials said, an armed gang member in Los Angeles allegedly rammed their vehicles with his own when they tried to arrest him. He was taken into custody.

Sixty-three percent of those arrested in Operation Safe City, about 317 people, had convictions for crimes including drunken driving, sex offenses and drug charges. They included a Baltimore woman from El Salvador who had been convicted of first-degree assault, a sex offender from India who lives in Boston, and a Guatemalan national living in Denver who has six drunk-driving convictions. Another 181 people arrested had no criminal records.

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