The administration’s deportation chief backtracked Friday, just a day after she pleaded with Congress to pass laws cracking down on so-called “sanctuary” cities and states — a stance that appeared to put her at odds with her boss, President Obama.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldana, who has been on the job less than 90 days, told Congress she would welcome new laws to crack down on states and localities that refuse to cooperate with her agents who are trying to apprehend and deport illegal immigrants.
“Thank you, Amen,” she said Thursday when asked if she would support Congress passing a law insisting local officials cooperate.
Her remarks drew fire from immigrant-rights advocates, and on Friday she had to issue a new statement saying she does not, in fact, want to see Congress pass any new crackdown laws.
“Any effort at federal legislation now to mandate state and local law enforcement’s compliance with ICE detainers will, in our view, be a highly counterproductive step and lead to more resistance and less cooperation in our overall efforts to promote public safety,” she said in an effort to walk back her previous statement to Congress.
Sanctuary cities have bedeviled immigration enforcement efforts for years. The Obama administration, while suing states such as Arizona that have tried a crackdown, have ignored states such as California, and locales such as Cook County, Ill., that have enacted policies refusing to cooperate.
Several years ago Ms. Saldana’s predecessor as ICE chief, John Morton, signaled he was pushing the Justice Department to try to pressure states and localities to cooperate. But the issue never went anywhere, and more municipalities have passed such laws.
Ms. Saldana and other top Homeland Security officials have shown frustration with locales that refuse to cooperate, saying at a press conference earlier this month that ICE agents are endangered when they have to go to illegal immigrants’ homes because jails won’t release illegal immigrants straight to agents.
ICE even keeps a tally of how many illegal immigrants they have tried to issue “detainer” requests for, only to have local authorities refuse.
In an exchange on Thursday, Ms. Saldana’s frustration with those localities showed through.
“Would it help you if we clarified the law to make it clear that it was mandatory that those local communities cooperate?” asked Rep. Mick Mulvaney, South Carolina Republican.
“Thank you, Amen, yes,” an emphatic Ms. Saldana replied.
That response set off alarm bells among immigrant-rights advocates, who on Friday thanked her for walking back her comments.
House Republicans are poised to consider legislation later this year that would free up state and local police to help enforce immigration laws, and Ms. Saldana’s initial remarks are likely to boost their case.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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