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'I Didn't Feel Like Fabricating the Truth': ICE Spokesperson Quits Over Agency Falsehoods

"Our democracy depends on public servants who act with integrity and hold transparency in the highest regard," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

ICE agents

ICE officers, in search of 32-year-old Hugo Medina, question his mother Magdalena Medina, 69, about his whereabout in a morning raid on his residence in Riverside. (Photo: Irfan Khan/LA Times via Getty Images)

A spokesman for the San Francisco division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has resigned over what he says were falsehoods by public officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, about recent raids by federal agents in California, and being pressured by agency leadership to repeat those misleading statements.

"I quit because I didn't want to perpetuate misleading facts."
—James Schwab, former ICE spokesman

"I quit because I didn't want to perpetuate misleading facts," James Schwab, who has worked for ICE since 2015, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn't agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit."

Schwab said he "just couldn't bear the burden—continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false."

In a separate interview, he said he was "scared," but added, "I need to have my integrity."

Two weeks ago, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a warning to community members when she learned that ICE was preparing raids across Northern California. In response to her actions, Schaaf was lauded by immigrant rights advocates but attacked by agency officials, Sessions, and even President Donald Trump.

In one such ICE statement, put out on Feb. 27, a few days after the raids began, ICE's acting director claimed that "864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community," in part due to Schaaf's warning on Twitter, which mobilized local activists.

The assertion that "800 wanted criminals" remain at large and are a threat to public safety has been repeated by Sessions. But Schwab, the former spokesman who handed in his resignation on Friday, claims that number is far lower, and that he encountered pushback from the agency for wanting to tell the press the truth. 

Schwab told a local television news station, KTVU, that ICE had initally anticipated arresting fewer than the 232 individuals who were taken into custody during the operation. However, leadership in ICE's Office of Public Affairs urged him to push the narrative of the Feb. 27 statement and defer other questions to the Justice Department. 

"I didn't feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves against [Schaaf's] actions was the way to go about it," said Schwab. "We were never going to pick up that many people. To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren't picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong."

Although Schwab says he disagrees with Schaaf's initial warning about the raids, the mayor praised the former ICE official's decision to resign over the agency's dishonesty.

"I commend Mr. Schwab for speaking the truth while under intense pressure to lie," Schaaf said. "Our democracy depends on public servants who act with integrity and hold transparency in the highest regard."

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