ICE spokesman resigns, citing fabrications by agency chief, Sessions about California immigrant arrests
March 13 at 3:51 PM Email the author
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned over what he described as âfalseâ and âmisleadingâ statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE acting director Thomas D. Homan.
James Schwab worked out of the agencyâs San Francisco office until he abruptly quit last week. He said he had been told to âdeflectâ questions about the Oakland, Calif., mayorâs interference with an ICE raid last month and to refer reporters to statements from Sessions and Homan that suggested that hundreds of âcriminalsâ (âcriminal aliens,â Homan called them) escaped capture in Northern California because the mayor tipped them off.
âI quit because I didnât want to perpetuate misleading facts,â Schwab told the San Francisco Chronicle. âI asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didnât agree with that. Then I took some time, and I quit.â
Sessions, Homan and President Trump sharply criticized Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf (D) for issuing a public warning in late February about an imminent ICE raid throughout the region. At the time, Schaaf said she wanted to protect âlaw-abidingâ immigrants from âthe constant threat of arrest and deportation.â
Schwab also criticized the mayorâs warning as âmisguided,â but he told Fox affiliate KTVU after resigning that ICE ended up capturing 232 suspected undocumented immigrants â" even more than officials had originally expected. About half of the people picked up had felonies or misdemeanors on their records, officials say.
In the raidâs aftermath, officials in Washington had repeatedly suggested that hundreds of criminals had escaped because of the mayorâs actions.
Homan said in a ne ws release that â864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayorâs irresponsible decision.â
The ICE director went further the next day, according to the Chronicle, when he said that âthereâs 800 that we are unable to locate because of that warningâ â" essentially blaming all the escapees on the mayor.
Then, last week, Sessions gave a speech in Sacramento. âHow dare you?â he asked the mayor. âThose are 800 wanted criminals that are now at large in that community, 800 wanted criminals that ICE will now have to pursue by other means, with more difficulty, in dangerous situations, all because of one irresponsible action.â
These figures propagated across news outlets. At a campaign rally over the weekend in Pennsylvania, Trump told the crowd that ICE had been prepared to arrest âclose to 1,000 peopleâ but got âa fractionâ of t hat, thanks to the mayor â" and called Schaaf a disgrace.
As the regional ICE spokesman, Schwab said this week, he had wanted to set the record straight.
The officials from Washington had been referring to the raidâs target list of about 1,000 people, he said, but immigration sweeps never net anywhere close to the total number of targets.
âI didnât feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves against [the mayorâs] actions was the way to go about it,â he told the Chronicle. âWe were never going to pick up that many people. To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people werenât picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong.â
If reporters asked him about Homanâs and Sessionsâs comments, he said, his superiors at ICE told him to simply âdeflect to previous statementsâ from those top officials.
âItâs the job of a public affairs officer to offer transparency for the agency you work for,â Schwab told the Chronicle. âIâve never been in a situation when Iâve been asked to ignore the facts because it was more convenient.â
As the days went by, he told CNN, âI just couldnât bear the burden â" continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false.â
So after a long career as a government spokesman â" with stints at NASA and the U.S. Army before he joined ICE in 2015, according to his online rÃ©sumÃ© â" Schwab quit.
He announced the decision âabruptly,â another ICE official told KTVU.
[ A government worker says he didnât want to help ICE deport immigrants. So he quit. ]
On Tuesday, ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson did not directly counter the former spokesmanâs claims but backed away from the agency directorâs previous statement that hundreds escaped because of the mayor.
âWhile we canât put a number on how ma ny targets avoided arrest due to the mayorâs warning, it clearly had an impact,â Johnson said. âWhile we disagree with Mr. Schwab on this issue, we appreciate his service and wish him well.â
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department initially denied that the attorney general had spoken of â800 wanted criminalsâ in his speech.
âThe AG said they were âwanted aliensâ not criminal,â Sarah Isgur Flores wrote to The Washington Post on Tuesday morning, referring to his prepared remarks.
But Sessions veered from the written remarks, and was recorded saying â800 wanted criminalsâ at least twice in his speech.
In a subsequent statement to The Post, Flores wrote: âDoes anyone seriously dispute that the Mayor attempted to thwart the efforts of federal law enforcement to apprehend wanted aliens in Oakland â" many of whom had previously been arrested or convicted of crimes ranging from drug trafficking, to domestic abuse, to child pornography?
âBut if anyone wants to have a public argument over precisely how many dangerous criminal aliens eluded arrest because of the Mayorâs irresponsible actions, we are happy to have that debate. We believe in the rule of law and one criminal alien victimizing residents of Oakland is one too many.â
Schaaf applauded Schwabâs decision to resign.
âI commend Mr. Schwab for speaking the truth while under intense pressure to lie,â she said in a statement to The Post. âOur democracy depends on public servants who act with integrity and hold transparency in the highest regard.â
This post has been updated.
ICE acting director Thomas D. Homan. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
The story behind this powerful ph oto of deported military veterans saluting the U.S. flag
Defiance, resistance: The front lines of Californiaâs war against the Trump administration
Thousands of ICE detainees claim they were forced into labor, a violation of anti-slavery laws
ICE planned to deport a man whose child has leukemia. So he took sanctuary in a church.Source: Google News