An ICE spokesman resigned after Trump criticized the Oakland mayor. Here's why
The fallout over facts started after a California mayor gave her city a heads up about an upcoming immigration raid.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision elicited anger from President Donald Trump and officials who blamed her for scattering criminals and causing hundreds of missed arrests. One number consistently appeared in their critiques: 800 criminal immigrants still on the streets.
What made the usual conflict between the Trump administration and a liberal mayor more noteworthy is that a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement quit over it. He publicly said he couldn’t serve as a spokesman for the federal agency while ignoring facts and "didn’t feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves."
PolitiFact is unable to independently confirm if hundreds of criminals missed arrest because of the mayor’s tip. But we wanted to look at the administration's claims and the spokesman’s criticism of the talking points.
On Feb. 24, Schaaf tweeted that she had "learned from multiple credible sources" about an ICE operation in the Bay Area happening within 24 hours.
"I know that Oakland is a city of law-abiding immigrants and families who deserve to live free from the constant threat of arrest and deportation," Schaaf’s statement said. "I believe it is my duty and moral obligation as mayor to give those families fair warning when that threat appears imminent."
ICE arrested more than 150 people for breaking U.S. immigration laws, and about half had criminal convictions in addition to their immigration violations, an ICE statement said on Feb. 27.
Immigration officials, and then Trump, lambasted Schaaf’s announcement, arguing it prevented the arrests of hundreds of criminals.
"However, 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," ICE acting Director Thomas Homan said in the statement.
On Fox News’ Fox & Friends on Feb. 28, Homan reiterated his disapproval, saying ICE couldn’t find "over 800 significant public safety threat criminals" because of her.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a March 7 law enforcement event in Sacramento also lashed at Schaaf for her "irresponsible action" allowing "800 wanted criminals" to remain at large.
Trump at a March 8 Cabinet meeting also denounced the mayor:
"They had close to a thousand people ready to be gotten, ready to be taken off the streets. Many of them, they say 85 percent of them were criminals, and had criminal records. And the mayor of Oakland went out ... and warned them all. Scatter. So instead of taking in a thousand, they took in a fraction of that, about 150."
Earlier that morning on Fox & Friends, Homan had started to backtrack on the number, now saying that he "can’t put a specific number on it but a lot of criminal aliens were not found. They were given advance notice by the mayor which increased a public safety issue in her area."
The talking point suggested that more than 800 criminals were free because of the mayor’s warning, but the spokesman believed that was an exaggeration and a misleading characterization of the operation’s possible outcome.
James Schwab, the former ICE spokesman in San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he wanted ICE to correct the record about roughly 800 immigrants escaping arrest, believing that the number was far lower and not wanting to deflect incoming media questions, according to a March 12 report.
"I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts," Schwab told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit."
Schwab, who we were unable to reach, told the San Francisco Chronicle that ICE was "not ever" going to arrest 100 percent of the roughly 1,000 immigrants targeted in the operation.
"I didn’t feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves against (Schaaf’s) actions was the way to go about it," the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Schwab as saying. "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."
Schwab said he didn’t feel that ICE was being transparent and that he’d "never been in a situation when I’ve been asked to ignore the facts because it was more convenient."
The Oakland mayor commended Schwab "for speaking the truth while under intense pressure to lie."
The Justice Department told us it had no comment in reaction to Schwab’s statements. The White House did not respond. ICE said it wished Schwab well.
"Even one criminal alien on the street can put public safety at risk and as Director Homan stated, while we can’t put a number on how many targets avoided arrest due to the mayor’s warning, it clearly had an impact," ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson said in a statement. "While we disagree with Mr. Schwab on this issue, we appreciate his service and wish him well."