President Donald Trump came to California on Tuesday to see prototypes for a border wall as he attempts to make good on one of his notorious campaign promises. It was his first visit to California since taking office, but the tour comes at a particularly tense time. Since Trump was elected, California has made it known it will not stand for his anti-immigrant policies. This stance has lead to an all-out standoff between the administration and the state.
February was filled with raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. First, ICE hit Los Angeles with a five-day sweep, arresting more than 200 people. Two weeks later, ICE targeted Northern California. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned her community of the planned raids, but ICE arrested more than 150 people over the course of three days.
ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan criticized Schaaf: “864 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 mayor’s irresponsible decision.”
If this statement seems hyperbolic, that’s because it is.
James Schwab, a San Francisco spokesperson for ICE, resigned over the false statements Homan made regarding the Northern California raids. Schwab said, “We were never going to pick up that many people. To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren’t picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong.”
The idea that ICE is protecting California from falling into criminal disarray is something Trump stated when he threatened to pull ICE agents from California: “We’re getting no help from the state of California. Frankly, if I pulled our people from California, you would have a crime nest like you’ve never seen in California.”
But Trump threatening to pull ICE out of California isn’t really much of a threat for the state.
In 2017, California voted to become a sanctuary state, and the law went into effect in 2018. This law prevents state and local law enforcement from using their resources to help with immigration authorities. It also prevents local law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status or giving federal immigration authorities access to a person in custody. This new law — and Schaaf’s warning — shows the administration that California will not play nice when it comes to Trump’s immigration agenda. And why should they?
ICE has arrested fathers while dropping off their kids at school, scouted out churches and attempted to deport a veteran who served in Afghanistan — and half of those arrested in the Northern California raids had no criminal convictions. These are only a handful of the extreme methods ICE has used.
Before Trump’s visit to California, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he is suing California over its sanctuary laws. While speaking at the California Peace Officers Association meeting in Sacramento, Sessions directed a comment to Mayor Schaaf: “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?”
But it’s the Trump administration that has taken a radical anti-immigrant stance.
In February, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a change in its mission statement. The most controversial change was the removal of the phrase “nation of immigrants.” The change of language may seem inconsequential at first, but in case there were any doubts, USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna cleared things up in an email when he informed his staff they would no longer be referring to immigrants as customers: “Use of the term leads to the erroneous belief that applicants and petitioners, rather than the American people, are whom we ultimately serve.”
Even the USCIS, which has the word immigration in its name, is making it clear it no longer exists to serve immigrants.
California has more immigrants than any other state. So to Trump, Sessions and the rest of the administration, California says: How dare you endanger the lives of our citizens to promote your radical anti-immigrant agenda?
Adriana Vazquez is a Free Society Fellow for Young Voices and a Bay Area resident. Follow her on Twitter @vazquezadriana.