Activists claim U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested or detained nearly a dozen individuals in Northern California this past weekend.
Volunteers with “rapid response” networks — groups that monitor ICE behavior in communities and help immigrants with legal services — released a statement decrying the arrests as an “ugly campaign of intimidation from the Trump administration’s deportation force.”
But a spokesperson for ICE said the agency is focusing on “individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security,” and that it does not arbitrarily detain or harass immigrants.
Arrests reportedly occurred in Sacramento, Napa, Merced, Contra Costa, Madera and Monterey counties on Sunday — but there were specifics about the operations, including charges against individuals.
Thomas Weiler is with Faith in the Valley, a coalition of central California religious organizations that provides counseling for people who are in the country illegally. He says the organization was called regarding five separate alleged ICE operations this weekend.
Weiler described one arrest he says occured at a Circle K convenience store in Merced. He says four men had stopped for coffee on their way to work.
“It seems ICE was already in the convenience store also buying coffee or whatnot,” Weiler explained, “and, upon leaving the store, these four gentlemen, just out of the blue, were asked for their documentation” by the agents.
But ICE spokesman James Schwab said “this does not happen,” referring to randomly asking individuals for documentation.
“All ICE operations are targeted and lead-driven,” Schwab said, “and we do not conduct indiscriminate operations.”
Three of the men at the Circle K were arrested and detained by ICE, according to Weiler. He says the fourth person, who was documented, reached out to Faith in the Valley to report the incident. ICE would not discuss whether any of the men were arrested or, if so, on what charges.
Weiler says that his organization also received a report of ICE conducting an additional arrest in Merced County where agents showed up at a home carrying assault rifles.
“It definitely had an impact on the family and I think intimidated them and the small children inside the home," Weiler said of the incident. At least one individual was removed from the home and detained, he said.
Schwab says that ICE agents would prefer not to visit people at residences or businesses. “We don’t want to be doing this. We want to be picking them up in the jails. We don’t want to have to go to people’s homes,” he said. “That’s our message to the people and the politicians: If we can pick them up in jail, it’s safer for everyone.”
But arrests at jails are less common since January, when California became a “sanctuary state.” The new sanctuary law does not preclude local or regional law enforcement agencies from cooperating with ICE. But it does ban law enforcement from placing “holds” on immigrants at jails. It also does not allow officers to work with immigration agents during raids, or to inquire into a random person’s immigration status.
ICE activity in the state has received increased scrutiny under the Trump administration. Rapid response volunteers have organized to monitor ICE raids and provide immediate assistance to immigrants throughout the state. Politicians also have spoken out against ICE operations; the mayor of Oakland, for instance, issued a warning before this weekend’s Northern California ICE arrests.
A network of four regional “rapid response” groups — including The Sacramento Immigration Coalition and the Alameda County Immigration Legal & Education Partnership — claimed 11 deportation total arrests this past Sunday in Northern California.
They say volunteers have confirmed or witnessed five arrests in Merced County, in addition to two arrests in Sacramento and Contra Costa counties. There were also single arrests in Napa and Monterey counties.
The Sacramento Bee reported at least four people were detained in Sacramento this past weekend at their homes or during traffic stops.
Weiler with Faith in the Valley also said his group also received three calls from people who say ICE conducted operations in Madera County.
Rapid-response groups say more ICE activity has been reported this week in Hayward, Pleasanton and Oakland.
Earlier this month, more than 200 immigrants were either arrested or detained by Southern California ICE agents in what activists described as a large-scale raid.
More than half of these arrestees had “prior felony convictions for serious or violent offenses, such as child sex crimes, weapons charges, and assault, or had past convictions for significant or multiple misdemeanors,” according to a statement from an ICE office in Los Angeles.
Also this month, ICE delivered nearly six dozen notices to businesses throughout Northern California, asking them to provide evidence that their employees can legally work in the country.
Schwab with ICE wrote in a statement that agents “conduct targeted enforcement operations on a daily basis in Northern California and across the nation.”