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This month, wildfires in the Napa and Sonoma regions of northern California killed dozens and destroyed thousands of homes. Shortly after, right-wing news sites like Breitbart and Infowars (in their capacity as right-wing, race-baiting sites that use every shred of rumor to promote their twisted view of the world) began spreading the idea that an undocumented immigrant was behind the fires.
There was an immigrant arrested by police at the time who had started a campfire to keep himself warm. But it was properly put out and had nothing to do with the wildfires. Yet Sheriff Rob Giordano of Sonoma County was forced to debunk false report after false report rather than being able to focus on the fighting the fires and spearheading the relief efforts.
And then, remarkably, acting ICE Director Thomas Homan piled on.
Either believing the fake news reports or not caring that they were false, Homan accused Sheriff Giordano’s office of not handing the immigrant over to ICE, leaving the community “vulnerable to dangerous individuals and preventable crimes.” Homan said that the whole episode could have been avoided if the sheriff’s office had cooperated with ICE in the first place.
Homan’s antipathy for cities that don’t automatically hand undocumented immigrants over to ICE is well-documented — nearly every time he’s in the news, he’s complaining about these cities or expressing his determination to go after them, even though courts have ruled it unconstitutional for jurisdictions to hand immigrants over to ICE just because they’re undocumented. But these latest comments are ridiculous. Homan is acting like a Fox News host, jumping on a false piece of news that designed to manipulate public opinion and scapegoat immigrants, in order to promote a policy that he wishes were in effect. Immigrants have literally nothing to do with the California wildfires, but Homan thinks the fires are a reason we should have more draconian anti-immigrant policies anyway.
This is apparently a troubling practice with this Administration: last week, we highlighted an Intercept article finding that former DHS Chief John Kelly ordered ICE officials to dig up unsavory stories of immigrants who had committed crimes, in order to sell the public on a series of raids that arrested immigrants who had done nothing wrong. As we did last week, we’ll point out that spreading lies about a group of people in order to drum up support for harsh policies is what autocracies do.
In Sonoma County, Homan’s comments stirred up questions once more, and the Sheriff’s Office was again forced to spend time rebutting the rumors. Fed up, Sheriff Giordano posted a long message on Facebook that called Homan out for completely unhelpful behavior that distracted officials from fire relief:
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a press release yesterday that was inaccurate, inflammatory, and damages the relationship we have with our community….
ICE attacked the Sheriff’s Office in the midst of the largest natural disaster this county has ever experienced. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, many people have lost their homes and 23 people have died from this firestorm. ICE’s misleading statement stirs fear in some of our community members who are already exhausted and scared.
The Trump Administration loves to applaud the police and law-enforcement professionals. But when it comes to letting officers who don’t agree with him do their jobs, its officials are apparently happy to get in the way, actively slow down efforts, and cast aspersions on those who have better things to do.