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.