The acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday appeared to undercut his boss, President Trump, on the same day Trump was touting two immigration bills intended to close "dangerous loopholes exploited by criminals."
During an off-camera briefing, Thomas Homan appeared to disagree with the belief that immigrants commit more crimes than people born in the US, according to reporters at the scene.
While it's unclear if Homan ever specifically said immigrants commit more crimes, he raised the ire of immigrant rights groups earlier this year, when he told a congressional committee that all undocumented immigrants in the US "should be uncomfortable" and "looking over (their) shoulder" when it comes to who could be deported.
"None of us in this room would be comfortable if we go speeding down a highway. We're going to think, maybe I’ll get a ticket. If you lie on your taxes you may get audited," Homan said according to transcripts. "If you enter this country illegally, you should be concerned that someone is looking for you. You should be concerned because you violated the laws of this country."
Trump has maintained since his campaign that undocumented immigrants are a major source of crime, and in executive orders has insisted that they "present a significant threat to national security and public safety." At an event in February with law enforcement officials from across the country, Trump said much of the crime problem in the US was caused by undocumented gang members.
The administration also launched an office dedicated to assisting victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, as well as a weekly list of cities that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration officials. The list was later stopped after several jurisdictions questioned its accuracy.
A recent analysis of 50 studies published between 1994 and 2014 found that while some researchers did find a relationship between immigration and higher rates of crime, most found the opposite — a reduction.
But surrounded by lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday, Trump framed the immigration bills pending before Congress as a way to liberate towns across the US from undocumented "bad people."
"And we've gotten many of them out already," he said during a brief press gathering. "You know, we're pretty much at the 50% mark. We're getting them out as fast as we can get them out and we're freeing up towns — actually liberating towns if you can believe that we have to do that in the United States of America."
Trump's administration has been ramping up arrests of undocumented immigrants. In May, ICE said more than 41,000 immigrants suspected of living in the US illegally had been arrested in the 100 days since Trump signed an executive order expanding the mandate of federal immigration authorities, a 38% increase compared to the same period last year.
Trump and his administration have said they are focusing on deporting immigrants with criminal convictions, but undocumented people with no such record have also been arrested in raids. More than half of the 683 immigrants arrested in raids shortly after Trump took office either had no criminal convictions or had traffic violations as their most serious crimes, according to federal data obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The bills touted by Trump on Thursday would increase penalties for deported immigrants who try to reenter the US and restrict federal grants to so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to fully comply with immigration officials. Both are scheduled for a vote in the House on Thursday.
Adolfo Flores is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Adolfo Flores at email@example.com.