President Donald Trump claimed that federal immigration officials asked the Los Angeles Police Department in January to detain an “illegal immigrant,” but the police “let him go, and he killed somebody.” That’s not how it happened.
The murder occurred last summer — before federal immigration officials say they issued a detainer request — so it did not happen after police released him, as Trump implied.
Los Angeles has a history of being what Trump refers to as a “sanctuary city.”
In 2012, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that people living in the U.S. illegally who were arrested for low-level crimes would no longer be turned over to immigration officials for deportation. At the time, Beck said the city needed to focus on the most serious and violent criminals and initiating deportation for “petty” criminals eroded trust in the city’s Hispanic communities.
Two years later, the city — which has a Hispanic population of about 49 percent — announced that its police would not honor federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to detain unless they were accompanied by a federal warrant or “Judicial Determination of Probable Cause for that detainer.”
Since taking office, the president and his administration have clashed with jurisdictions that refuse to honor ICE detainer requests.
Less than a week after his inauguration, Trump issued an executive order threatening to deny federal funds to jurisdictions that fail to comply with federal immigration laws. After that was nullified by a federal court, the administration turned to withholding law enforcement funds. But Los Angeles sued the Trump administration, and a federal judge last month ruled that the federal government could not give funding preference to localities based on their level of cooperation with immigration laws.
It was against this backdrop that the president told his L.A. murder story at a May 16 meeting, which the White House called a “California Sanctuary State Roundtable.”
Trump, May 16: In January, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested an illegal immigrant from Mexico for drug possession. Instead of honoring the ICE detainer, they set him free. Just a few weeks later, he was arrested again, this time for murder. So they arrested him, they had him, they let him go. Tom, you’ve seen this. They let him go, and he killed somebody.
After the president made his remarks, we contacted the LAPD and the White House to get details on this case. The White House said that a 30-year-old Mexican national was arrested on Jan. 7, 2018, on a drug possession charge. That same day, the White House told us, ICE issued a detainer request, but the man was released.
“On February 26, 2018, he was again arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department for Murder, and booked into the Los Angeles County Jail, where he remains in custody,” the White House said in an email to us.
But the White House did not give us the man’s name, citing privacy rules, or the date of the murder. We also could not find any mention of a murder case in Nexis, the newspaper database, that matched the description of the one provided by the White House.
The LAPD declined repeated requests for information on the case, because we could not provide the name of the murder suspect. However, the police chief on May 22 told the Los Angeles Times that the president got his facts wrong.
Beck said the murder occurred during the summer and the suspect, Juan Ramirez, wasn’t arrested for the murder until February — so the police did not release an immigrant living in the country illegally who then went on to commit a murder.
Officer Tony Im told us that Ramirez, 30, was arrested on Feb. 26 for the murder of Isidro Alba, 39. The murder occurred on Aug. 27, 2017, in the Van Nuys section of the city, he said.
The police chief also told the Times that his office did not receive an ICE detainer for Ramirez in January, although he added that the department would not have honored it, anyway, “because we believe those requests are illegal.”
In a statement, ICE insisted that it issued three detainers for Ramirez. It said the LAPD arrested Ramirez three times and all three times the federal agency issued detainer requests (on Nov. 28, 2017, Jan. 8, 2018, and Feb. 27, 2018).
“ICE has placed three detainers on Mr. Ramirez in the last six months, all of which were not honored, leaving Mr. Ramirez free to reoffend in an escalating fashion rather than be placed in immigration court proceedings and removed from the United States,” the ICE statement said.
ICE’s claim that the LAPD’s release of Ramirez allowed him “to reoffend in an escalating fashion” is inaccurate. As we said, the murder occurred Aug. 27, 2017 — which was three months before the first detainer was issued. We don’t have information on the November arrest, but the January arrest was “on suspicion of a minor narcotics violation,” according to the Times.
We were not able to immediately resolve the disagreement over whether the detainers were issued (as ICE says) or not (as the LAPD insists). Lori K. Haley, an ICE spokeswoman who provided us with information on Ramirez, declined to provide copies of the detainers issued for Ramirez. We were instructed to file a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request, which takes time to process.
President Donald Trump’s use of the word “animals” in what he says was a reference to MS-13 gang members has resulted in a spat between the president and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:
- Pelosi criticized Trump for saying “undocumented immigrants” were “animals,” adding that we have to “respect the dignity and worth of every person.” Trump later clarified that he was talking about MS-13, not all immigrants trying to enter the country illegally.
- The president then said Pelosi “came out in favor of MS-13” and was “trying to find all sorts of reasons why they should be able to stay.” She didn’t do either of those things. Her remarks about treating “undocumented immigrants” with respect did not mention MS-13 members at all.
Trump made his original “animals” comment during a May 16 roundtable discussion at the White House with California political and law enforcement leaders. The discussion began shortly after 3 p.m., according to the White House transcript. Trump started off the event by claiming the state’s so-called “sanctuary” policy, limiting state and local law enforcement’s communications with federal immigration authorities, “provides safe harbor to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on Earth, like MS-13 gang members putting innocent men, women, and children at the mercy of these sadistic criminals.”
Much later on during the event, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims talked about issues involving the communication between those working in local jails and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Mims mentioned MS-13, and Trump responded with comments on “people coming into the country,” without mentioning the gang:
Sheriff Mims, May 16: Thank you. There could be an MS-13 gang member I know about — if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them.
Trump: We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.
Pelosi, May 17: We believe some of us who are attracted to the political arena and to government and public service that we’re all God’s children. There’s a spark of divinity in every person on Earth and that we all have to recognize that as we respect the dignity and worth of every person. … And so when the president of the United States says about undocumented immigrants, ‘these aren’t people, these are animals,’ you have to wonder, does he not believe in the spark of divinity? The dignity and worth of every person? ‘These are not people, these are animals,’ the president of the United States. … Calling people ‘animals’ is not a good thing.
Later that day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked what the president meant by the remark, and she said he “was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members.” Later that same day, Trump, too, was asked to clarify his remarks, and he said: “But I’m referring, and you know I’m referring, to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in.”
We can’t say what Trump meant when he made his remarks, but there is a history of Trump referring to MS-13 gang members as “animals.” Given that, and the larger context of the conversation about people who are in jails and in the country illegally, it’s certainly plausible that he was referring to the gang members.
At a July 25, 2017, rally in Ohio, Trump called MS-13 gang members “animals” who “slice and dice” young girls because they want their victims “to go through excruciating pain.” Three days later in New York, Trump retold the story of gang members using knives instead of guns because “it’s more painful, and they enjoy watching that much more. These are animals.”
Trump now has been putting his spin on Pelosi’s remarks.
At a May 22 gala event for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion rights group, Trump claimed: “And the other day — just the other day — Nancy Pelosi came out in favor of MS-13. That’s the first time I’ve heard that. She wants them to be treated with respect, as do other Democrats. That’s not going to be happening. We’re not going to release violent criminals into our country.”
But Pelosi did not come “out in favor of MS-13.” She didn’t mention the gang or gang members at all.
He also falsely implies that Democrats — by treating criminals with respect — would “release violent criminals into our country.” He went even further on May 23, when he said in an interview on Fox News: “You heard Nancy Pelosi the other day, like, trying to find all sorts of reasons why they should be able to stay.” Pelosi did not say violent gang members in the U.S. illegally “should be able to stay.”