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ICE spokesperson quits over ‘false public statements’ from Trump administration
U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Flickr (Public Domain)
‘I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts.’
The San Francisco spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) left his position, stating on Monday that he couldn’t “perpetuate misleading facts” shared by President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and ICE itself.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, James Schwab said he resigned as a result of statements coming from the Trump administration and ICE regarding the California Bay Area raid that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf had warned the immigrant community about.
The ICE operation, called Keep Safe, began on Feb. 25, and was meant to show California leaders that the state’s sanctuary city laws preventing local police from assisting ICE agents could not protect undocumented immigrants, the Chronicle reported.
Schaaf’s warning on Feb. 24, an attempt to protect undocumented immigrants who did not have criminal charges against them and would be separated from their families if detained, ruined the operation that would have arrested potentially hundreds of “criminal aliens,” according to statements from ICE Acting Director Thomas D. Homan, Sessions, and Trump.
Schwab, however, told the Chronicle that those statements were falsehoods, and led to his resignation. He also stated that though he pushed back on those statements and wanted the agency to correct the “800” number frequently used in reference to the amount of “criminal aliens” who escaped the raid, ICE told him to “deflect” questions from the media.
“I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” Schwab told the publication. “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.”
In the weeks following Schaaf’s tip-off, Homan, Sessions, and Trump all lambasted the Oakland mayor and cited similar figures. Homan said that “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.” Sessions, too, stated that ICE will have to pursue “800 wanted criminals” even harder, “all because of one mayor’s irresponsible action.” Then Trump characterized Schaaf’s action as “a disgrace,” and said ICE was going to arrest “close to 1,000 people,” but only got “a fraction” because of her warning.
In actuality, Schwab said, the raid was more successful than ICE planned. ICE, he said, never arrests 100 percent of the people it targets for operation. Schwab went on to tell an Oakland Fox affiliate that the operation was expected to arrest “far fewer” than the 232 suspected undocumented people it did. According to ICE, of the 232 people picked up, 115 had felonies or misdemeanors.
“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.
ICE officials confirmed Schwab’s resignation but did not respond to questions regarding the disputed figures. A spokesperson instead referred to Homan’s original statement regarding the 864 people “at large.” According to the Washington Post, Schwab was previously a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Reserve Element, a public affairs office for the NASA Ames Research Center, and a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense, before joining ICE in 2015.
Schwab’s departure follows the February resignation of a Montana Labor Department worker Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts who quit his job as a legal assistant after being told he’d have to process labor records subpoenas for ICE. However, whereas Dyrdahl-Roberts previously told the Daily Dot that his resignation was a direct action to impede ICE’s function, Schwab told the Fox affiliate that said he “may not agree” with all of Mayor Schaaf’s actions in warning undocumented immigrants about the raid.
“It’s the job of a public affairs officer to offer transparency for the agency you work for. I felt like we weren’t doing that,” Schwab said. “I’ve never been in a situation when I’ve been asked to ignore the facts because it was more convenient. It was my first time being asked to do that.”
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.