California's attorney general said Wednesday he is concerned about open-ended immigration sweeps at a time he and other state officials say the Trump administration should be concentrating on deporting dangerous felons.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra said while it is the federal government's responsibility to protect the nation's borders, the goal should be public safety, not deporting otherwise law-abiding immigrants who are in the country illegally.
"We will, as always, work with our federal partners in every respect to go after drug dealers, human traffickers, potential terrorists," Becerra said. "We're not in the business of deportation. We're in the business of public safety."
Becerra and other Democrats spoke in response to an anonymous report in the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday that said federal officials are preparing for a major immigration sweep in San Francisco and other Northern California cities.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez said agency policy is to neither confirm nor deny the possibility or existence of a specific operation.
ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan has repeatedly lambasted California and Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, over a new state law that strictly limits the cooperation of local law enforcement with federal immigration authorities when they are booked into jail for other reasons. A day after the law took effect in California, he said ICE will "vastly increase our enforcement footprint in the state of California."
"California better hold on tight," he told Fox News on Jan. 2. "They're about to see a lot more special agents, a lot more deportation officers in the state of California. If the politicians in California don't want to protect their communities, then ICE will."
Democratic U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris sent Homan a letter Wednesday asking to be briefed on how raids are prioritized and for all communications regarding upcoming raids in California.
"Diverting resources in an effort to punish California and score political points is an abhorrent abuse of power, not to mention a terrible misuse of scarce resources," they wrote.
Immigrant rights advocates had not stepped up their activism in response to the report, but said anxiety remained high.
"We're always worried of what's going to come next from this administration," said Juan Rivera of Carecen SF, a nonprofit that assists Central American immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area and is part of a rapid response network that alerts immigrants about ICE raids.
Becerra and former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, now the University of California president, spoke at a news conference urging young immigrants to apply to remain in the country after a federal judge prevented Trump from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Napolitano said when she was secretary under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013, immigration officials concentrated on deporting felons, particularly violent felons, gang members, security threats and those caught soon after crossing the border.
"The current administration has kind of erased all of those priorities and said anybody in the country without documentation is fair game," she said. "I think one can question whether that is the best use of our law enforcement resources."
Deportation arrests have surged about 40 percent under Trump's presidency, even without a budget increase.
Homan, in a recent interview with The Associated Press, said authorities still target people with criminal histories but limits on access to local jails will prompt them to chase them elsewhere, potentially arresting others who happen to be there and are in the country illegally.
Trump and other administration officials have singled out San Francisco for criticism, repeatedly raising the 2015 fatal shooting of Kate Steinle by Mexican man who had been deported five times and was recently acquitted of murder.