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Fact-checking Trump’s weekly address on immigrants, crime and sanctuary cities

The president has uses misleading anecdotal evidence to illustrate his point. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

President Trump has a habit of linking undocumented immigrants to grisly crimes when, in fact, most of the available data and research say immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the U.S.-born population.

We’ve twice given Four Pinocchios to Trump for these claims (in 2018 and 2015), but the president continues to marshal anecdotal evidence of immigrant crimes to make the case for a massive wall along the southern border.

Trump dedicated his most recent weekly address to what he described as the dangers of sanctuary jurisdictions — or local governments that choose not to cooperate with federal authorities seeking to detain unauthorized immigrants.

The president criticized the mayor of Oakland, Calif., for tipping off residents to a raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the night before it happened in February. He also highlighted cases from Denver, New York and San Francisco, all sanctuary jurisdictions. Trump says local officials put their communities at risk by releasing seven immigrants in their custody instead of turning them over to ICE.

The White House claims these immigrants committed more offenses after being released by local authorities. But there’s no evidence that any of them committed a violent crime while ICE was searching for them.

In some cases, it’s not even clear that ICE was looking for these individuals when local authorities released them. Moreover, ICE eventually detained all these individuals, except for a suspect in Denver charged with vehicular homicide, who will be due back in court.

Do the president’s examples give an accurate picture of what’s happening in these cities?

“In recent days, San Francisco officials denied ICE’s request to turn over a criminal alien with a prior conviction for battery and a charge for driving under the influence.”

San Francisco first designated itself a sanctuary city in 1989 by local ordinance, banning the use of city resources to assist ICE in enforcing federal immigration laws “unless such assistance is required by federal or state law.”

A follow-up ordinance from 2013 prohibits local authorities from honoring ICE “detainer requests,” or requests to keep certain immigrants in local jails on ICE’s behalf when they would otherwise be released. This ordinance also “limits when city law enforcement officers may give ICE advance notice of a person’s release from local jail.”

In his weekly address, Trump was referring to a Mexican citizen convicted in August 2017 of battery and sentenced to three years of confinement and three years of probation, according to a White House official. It’s not clear that ICE had a detainer out for him at the time he was released.

This individual, whom the White House did not name, was then charged with driving under the influence and booked in the county jail in February 2018. ICE filed a detainer request, but local officials disregarded it, according to the White House. ICE arrested him at his home later in February.

In 2016, crime declined 10 percent in San Francisco, compared with the previous year, according to the city’s latest data. Violent crimes declined 8 percent, and property crimes dropped 11 percent.

“In another city in California, local law enforcement recently denied ICE’s request to turn over a criminal alien convicted of sexual battery who had a history of domestic violence. A truly violent person.”

We don’t know which city Trump is talking about, but Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed legislation in 2017 making the entire state of California a sanctuary jurisdiction.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the law took effect in January 2018 and largely prohibits “state and local law enforcement agencies from using either personnel or funds to hold, question or share information about people with federal immigration agents unless those individuals have been convicted of one or more offenses from a list of 800 crimes outlined in a 2013 state law.” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is suing California over its sanctuary law.

A White House official said Trump was referring to a Mexican citizen who was found guilty of domestic violence in 2004. This individual was then convicted of sexual battery in January 2017, a year before Brown’s law took effect. So he may or may not have been in a sanctuary jurisdiction at the time.

Trump said “local law enforcement recently denied ICE’s request to turn over” the Mexican citizen, but it’s not clear that ICE had a detainer out for him at the time of these offenses in 2004 or 2017. In the information it provided to us, the White House did not specify that there was a detainer for this individual, although it did for other cases. We asked the White House whether there was an ICE detainer in 2004 or 2017 and got no answer.

ICE ultimately arrested this individual in February 2018.

California’s violent crime rate rose nearly 4 percent in 2016 but remains at historically low levels, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Meanwhile, property crimes decreased 3 percent in 2016.

“Last week, the mayor of Oakland warned criminal aliens of a coming ICE enforcement action — giving them time to scatter and hide from authorities. The mayor’s conduct directly threatened the safety of federal immigration officers and the law-abiding Americans in her community.”

On Feb. 24, Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, announced that an ICE raid in Northern California was imminent. The operation began the next day, and federal officials complained that Schaaf’s warning allowed hundreds of undocumented immigrants to evade capture. In the end, ICE detained 232 individuals.

“She went out and warned them all — scatter,” Trump said March 8. “So instead of [ICE] taking in a thousand, they took in a fraction of that.”

We’re going to hand this section of the fact-check over to James Schwab, the former ICE spokesman in San Francisco. Schwab resigned in protest when he was asked to blame Schaaf for endangering the community, saying he “didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts.”

Trump, Sessions and ICE Director Thomas Homan all suggested that 800 or so undocumented immigrants had eluded authorities because of Schaaf’s warning.

“Director Homan and the attorney general said there were 800 people at large and free to roam because of the actions of the Oakland mayor,” Schwab told CNN. “Personally I think her actions were misguided and not responsible. I think she could have had other options. But to blame her for 800 dangerous people out there is just false.”

Schwab added: “It’s a false statement because we never pick up 100 percent of our targets. And to say they’re a type of dangerous criminal is also misleading.”

In 2017, violent crime declined 5 percent in Oakland, compared with the previous year, according to city statistics, and crime overall fell 1 percent.

“New York authorities released illegal aliens who were previously charged with assault, criminal possession of a weapon, possession of poisonous drugs, and strangling a person — in each case, New York officials had refused to turn these dangerous illegal aliens over to ICE or notify ICE about their release with enough time for them to be safely arrested.”

ICE ultimately arrested all four of these individuals anyway.

Trump’s description of their offenses matches the details provided by the White House. Local officials released three of these individuals; ICE had filed detainer requests for them on the same days as their arrests or, in one case, five days after the arrest. (The agency does not appear to have filed a detainer for the fourth individual.)

None of these offenders appears to have committed violent crimes after being released. However, in one of these cases, New York officials released a man charged with strangulation who had reentered the country after having been deported three times. ICE filed a detainer request on the day of his arrest, but it was not honored, according to the White House.

In the end, ICE caught up with all four individuals and arrested them on immigration-related violations.

The president has made this claim for over two years — but there is still no evidence. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

New York’s sanctuary policy dates to 1989. “Officials can’t honor so-called detainer requests from the feds unless the person they’re looking for has been convicted of any of 170 serious crimes,” according to the New York Daily News. City officials are in the process of toughening their sanctuary city policy to prohibit the use of city resources for the purposes of assisting ICE, as San Francisco does.

Trump highlighted these four individuals — one from the Dominican Republic, two from Mexico and one from Nigeria — to warn about the dangers of not cooperating with ICE. But New York has seen a steady decline in violent crime since 2000, according to city data. The Big Apple is recognized as the “safest big city in America,” with homicides reaching a 66-year low in 2017.

“The city of Denver refused ICE’s request to turn over a criminal illegal alien charged with vehicular homicide for killing another driver in a horrific hit-and-run.”

Denver does not recognize ICE detainer requests, but its sanctuary city policy allows local officials to notify federal immigration authorities when they are preparing to release immigrants wanted by ICE. Denver’s policy gives ICE a 48-hour window after an individual’s release to make an immigration arrest.

That policy was not followed in the case of Iván Zamarripa-Castañeda, who has been charged with killing a truck driver, John Anderson, while driving under the influence and then leaving the scene. Denver County Sheriff Patrick Firman said his department processes 15 to 17 ICE notification requests a month. Trump says Denver “refused” an ICE request, but the sheriff said Zamarripa-Castañeda fell through the cracks.

The suspect was released from custody on $25,000 bail March 10, but ICE was not notified until about an hour later.

“The department’s practice is to provide notification to ICE once the inmate enters the release process, upon ICE’s request,” the Denver Sheriff’s Department said in a statement on Facebook. “This is the first time that the notification of release did not occur before the actual release. We take this very seriously and are working to learn what happened.”

Colorado officials say they don’t honor ICE detainers because of a series of court rulings that have flagged privacy concerns. “We have been told that that’s illegal, that it’s a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights and so we have not honored those since about 2013,” Firman said.

In 2017, crime was up 4 percent in Denver, compared with the previous year, according to city data.

Six of the seven individuals on Trump’s list ultimately were detained by ICE, and the seventh is Zamarripa-Castañeda, who will be due back in court. Local media have reported the block he lives on. In short, ICE could still detain him.

“They may be currently detained by ICE, but they were let go previously while under police custody,” a White House official said. “That’s the entire point. These violent offenders were let go previously, which resulted in more crimes being committed by these individuals.”

But it’s not clear that ICE was seeking the individual in San Francisco or the individual in the unnamed city in California at the time they were released for violent offenses. ICE apparently had no detainer out for one of the New York individuals. This is key. States and local governments don’t have the power to deport immigrants, so if ICE wasn’t looking for these individuals, local authorities would have had no reason to keep them in jail for ICE to pick up.

ICE filed a detainer for the individual in San Francisco when he was charged with driving under the influence, not when he was convicted months earlier of battery. The detainer wasn’t honored, but ICE arrested him at his home weeks later.

The Pinocchio Test

“California’s leaders are in open defiance of federal law,” Trump said in his weekly address. “They don’t care about crime. They don’t care about death and killings. They don’t care about robberies.”

The president paints a menacing picture, but the bottom line is that there is no evidence any of the seven individuals he mentions committed a violent crime while ICE was searching for them. The White House said their release by local authorities meant “more crimes being committed,” but the information they provided does not bear that out for violent crimes.

Trump glosses over all of this nuance, maligns the mayor of Oakland and neglects to provide crucial context. For example, crime in New York City is at a historic low, despite the four cases he spotlights. And there are legal issues to consider. Sheriffs in Colorado cite several court rulings to say ICE detainers trample individuals’ privacy rights.

This is another example of Trump cherry-picking a few cases to sell a grand — and misleading — narrative about immigrants and crime. Every demographic group has its share of criminals, but the research shows that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than the U.S.-born population.

For feeding this misleading narrative, Trump earns Four Pinocchios.

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Share the Facts
Washington Post rating logo Washington Post Rating:
Not the whole story
"The mayor of Oakland … directly threatened the safety of federal immigration officers and the law-abiding Americans in her community."
in a weekly address
Saturday, March 10, 2018

Share The Facts

Share the Facts
Washington Post rating logo Washington Post Rating:
Not the whole story
"The city of Denver refused ICE’s request to turn over a criminal illegal alien charged with vehicular homicide for killing another driver in a horrific hit-and-run."
in a weekly address
Saturday, March 10, 2018