James Schwab, formerly the spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s San Francisco Division, resigned after objecting to statements from ICE and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he says are false.
Schwab told CNN he shared his concerns about the inaccuracies with ICE leadership, and was told to “deflect to previous statements.” After the agency showed no interest in correcting the misinformation, which included blanket demonization of undocumented immigrants as “public safety threats,” Schwab stepped down.
On Monday, he explained his decision to CNN: "I just couldn't bear the burden — continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false."
The falsehoods he cited came from Sessions and ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan. Their statements criticized Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, California, for warning the community in February about upcoming ICE raids.
Sessions called Shaaf’s decision an “irresponsible action,” and railed against the “800 wanted criminals that are now at large in that community – 800 wanted criminals that ICE will now have to pursue with more difficulty in more dangerous situations.”
Homan, in an ICE press release, made comments that matched Sessions’ ominous tone. “Thanks to the dedicated and professional work of ICE deportation officers, we were able to remove many public safety threats from the streets of the Bay Area during the past few days,” Homan said. “However, 864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community.”
Schaaf’s move was controversial, and even Schwab said the decision was “misguided,” but he said Sessions’ and Homan’s condemnations were misleading and inaccurate.
"It's a false statement because we never pick up 100% of our targets,” Schwab said. “And to say they're a type of dangerous criminal is also misleading."
During the last year, ICE has come under fire for its press releases, which enthusiastically recount the agency’s raids and the number of undocumented immigrants detained and deported. The problem is, the reports fail to provide proper context about detainees’ offenses, lumping in violent crimes like homicide and assault with the crime of “illegal entry.” These press releases refer to detainees as “criminal aliens,” “public safety threats” and “convicted criminals” repeatedly, without demonstrating what portion of those detained were actually violent offenders.
Sessions’ and Homan’s comments fall into the same pattern of exaggeration and generalization. The remarks may suit a political agenda, but they also contribute to an incorrect and harmful public perception of undocumented immigrants as more dangerous — a perception famously articulated by then-candidate Donald Trump on the first day of his campaign, when he accused immigrants from Mexico of being criminals, drug dealers and “rapists.”
Schwab told both the San Francisco Chronicle and CNN that the pressure he felt to perpetuate this misleading information was unprecedented in his career.
"I've never been in this situation in 16, almost 17 years in government where someone asked me to deflect when we absolutely knew something was awry,” he said, “when the data was not correct."