The audience that greeted the country’s top immigration law enforcement official and the Sacramento County sheriff was not forgiving.
The two men went in front of a hostile crowd to try to explain the role of federal and local officials in the enforcement of immigration laws. But in response, the attendees booed, interrupted and screamed.
In the audience, however, one person was applauded: Bernard Marks, a Holocaust survivor.
“You stand up here, Mr. Jones, don’t forget,” Marks told Sheriff Scott Jones, whom a pro-immigrant group has accused of helping federal officials in deporting “families and loved ones.” “History is not on your side.”
Jones, along with Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, hosted a public forum on immigration in Sacramento on Tuesday to dispel what the sheriff said was misinformation about deportations and the role of local and federal law enforcers. Immigration advocates showed up to protest. Six people wore white T-shirts with a big letter painted on each of them. When they assembled in one line, their T-shirts read “ICE OUT.”
Some, including Marks, stood behind a microphone at the forum to condemn President Trump and his hard-line immigration policies. Marks spoke about his childhood in Europe during World War II.
“When I was a little boy in Poland, for no other reason but for being Jewish, I was hauled up by the Nazis. And for no other reason, I was picked up and separated from my family, who was exterminated in Auschwitz,” Marks said. The Sacramento resident said he spent more than five years in concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau “for one reason and one reason only,” Marks said, “because we picked on people.”
Marks, who was applauded for several seconds, was 8 when he and his Jewish family were sent from their home in Poland to one of the Nazi concentration camps. After learning that children under the age of 10 were being sent to gas chambers, Marks’s father changed his son’s year of birth to make him appear older, Marks, now in his 80s, told CCTV in 2015.
In the TV interview, Marks recalled: “At Auschwitz, I was working, building a road. Sometimes we would take stones from one side, in the heat, and carry them to the other side. And then some people would take it from this side to put back over there.”
It was, Marks said, “another way to exterminate you, because they used the word ‘arbeit macht frei,’ — ‘work makes you free.’ Actually, that was not the case. They should have used ‘work will exterminate you.’ Instead of putting you into the gas chamber, they just worked you to death without giving you any food.”
Marks and his father, who were among the five in his family to survive, moved to the United States after they were freed from the camps.
At the forum Tuesday, Marks also slammed federal immigration agents for arresting people at courthouses. Earlier this month, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote a letter criticizing federal immigration agents for using courthouses as “bait,” a place for “stalking” immigrants who “pose no risk to public safety.”
Homan responded that his agents don’t go to courthouses to look for victims or witnesses. “We go to courthouses for someone who’s been convicted of a crime,” he said, adding that immigration agents will continue to do that.
Throughout the rest of the forum, which lasted more than an hour, the crowd made it clear that it was not receptive to what Jones and Homan had to say. Some people were asked to leave for being too disruptive. At least two men were escorted out by officers, one of whom had to be carried.
Jones, a Republican who lost a congressional bid last November, said the sheriff’s department does not arrest people over their immigration status. “We never ask someone’s immigration status. We never ask for proof of residency or documentation or legal status,” he said. “My primary concern as a law enforcement executive … is ensuring that folks in our community have the comfort and confidence to call law enforcement if they need help, and know that they won’t be scrutinized because of their status, legal or otherwise.”
Homan emphasized repeatedly that his agency’s role is to enforce the law. If immigrants “are in the country illegally, plus they committed a crime, I’m going to arrest that person and my officer is going to arrest that person,” he said.
Immigration agents don’t just descend on neighborhoods to conduct random sweeps, Homan said, adding that officers make arrests only when they know who and where their targets are.
“We don’t arrest people on school grounds. We don’t arrest people in churches. We don’t arrest people in hospitals,” Homan said. “We go to a specific location looking for a specific individual.”
Last year, Homan received the government’s highest civil service award for federal leaders, The Washington Post’s Lisa Rein reported. He had led operations in 2015 that set records for the number of deported undocumented immigrants with a criminal history.
As he spoke at the forum, Homan had to pause several times because of boos and interruptions from the crowd.
“I’ve been doing this for 34 years. I understand immigration enforcement is a very emotional topic. I get that,” he told the crowd. “I have a very tough job, and the 20,000 men and women who work for me have a tough job. It’s not an easy job.”
He added that immigration enforcement officials do not arrest immigrants who are in the country legally under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, unless they’ve committed a crime. The Obama-era policy gives immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as minors a renewable, two-year reprieve in which they won’t be deported and will be eligible to work.
Yet a federal lawsuit filed recently accuses immigration authorities of illegally arresting and threatening to deport a 23-year-old DACA recipient, The Post’s Derek Hawkins reported. Daniel Ramirez Medina was arrested by ICE agents in Seattle and was moved to a facility in Tacoma, Wash., despite having committed no crime, according to the habeas corpus petition.
At the forum, Homan tried to alleviate fears that have swept through several communities. In Las Cruces, N.M., for instance, some students have stopped attending classes because parents fear they’ll be arrested as they drop their kids off at school, the New Yorker reported.
“Folks, I’m trying to set the record straight,” Homan said. “I don’t want children not going to school. I don’t want people not going to their doctor. I don’t want people not going to church.”
Since Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order to crack down on the millions of illegal immigrants in this country, enforcement agents have arrested hundreds of people in several states. Although the agents have arrested known criminals, they have also targeted those with minor convictions or no offenses, The Post reported.
Jones, who supported Trump, said California has become a “de facto sanctuary state” because several jurisdictions have declined federal requests to hold arrestees in jail because of their immigration status.
“By ICE’s own numbers, 95 percent of the people they used to arrest, that they’ve already identified, that they want to take custody of, are getting out of jail before they can get to them,” Jones told Fox 40. “And that’s scary, because they’re criminals. They’ve demonstrated a propensity for criminal behavior.”
This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to strip some “sanctuary cities” of federal grants. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has promised that California’s capital will remain a “sanctuary city,” the Sacramento Bee reported.