SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Supporters and critics of President Donald Trump’s deportation policy packed a gymnasium in California’s heartland on Tuesday, trading jeers and ridicule during a raucous town hall meeting attended by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a pro-Trump Republican who enjoys strong backing in the region’s conservative suburbs, invited acting ICE Director Thomas Homan to address the public forum in the state capital.
The gathering got off to a boisterous start, with Jones’ opening remarks interrupted by shouts and heckling as he warned that spectators who continued to disrupt the meeting, attended by about 400 people, would be ejected.
About a dozen people were eventually escorted out of the hall.
Homan, whose agency has drawn fire for what some civil liberties advocates have criticized as heavy-handed tactics in rounding up and deporting illegal immigrants, insisted ICE was acting in a targeted fashion against those with criminal records.
He said ICE was also focused on individuals who have violated final deportation orders or have returned after being removed from the country.
“We don’t conduct neighborhood sweeps,” he said over cat-calls. “I don’t want children to be afraid to go to school. I don’t want people to be afraid to go to the doctor.”
Still, he warned that ICE intended to “enforce the laws that are on the books.”
Democratic officials in the Sacramento area, home to about 2 million people in California’s Central Valley some 90 miles (145 km) east of San Francisco, have opposed the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown and are leading a charge in the state legislature to fight his policies.
The division illustrates the complicated politics of the capital region, straddling jurisdictions where the predominantly liberal California coast bleeds into the more conservative interior of the state.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a former top Democrat in the heavily blue state legislature, said at an earlier protest rally that ICE had failed to earn the community’s trust.
He called on Jones to end a county agreement with U.S. authorities in which jailed immigrants sought by federal agents for deportation are kept incarcerated beyond their scheduled release to allow ICE to take them into custody.
Among members of the public who spoke was Bernard Marks, 87, a Holocaust survivor, who said: “I spent 5 1/2 years in a concentration camp because we picked up people. Mr. Jones, history is not on your side.”
Another elderly participant, who identified himself only by his first name, Vincent, suggested those entering the United States illegally violated more than just immigration laws.
“How can an illegal alien get a job unless they’ve stolen a Social Security number,” he asked, visibly shaking with emotion after protesters yelled at him while he spoke.
Jones said earlier the town hall was an attempt to “find common ground by reducing conflicting information, eliminating ambiguity and reducing fear by presenting factual information.”
So many groups vowed to protest at the event that it had to be moved to a larger venue than originally planned.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Steve Gorman, Cynthia Osterman and Paul Tait