President Trump has directed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to begin rounding up illegal immigrant families who have received deportation orders starting this Sunday, three U.S. officials with knowledge of the plan told The Washington Post.
The operation, which will kick off with predawn raids, is expected to target up to 2,000 families facing deportation orders in up to 10 cities, including Houston, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and other cities with high numbers of immigrants.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan has reportedly been urging ICE to take a more limited approach to detain a group of about 150 families who had attorneys but dropped out of the legal process and absconded. He warned that the widespread operation could risk separating children from their parents.
Trump first announced Monday that ICE will begin deporting "millions" of undocumented immigrants next week.
"Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in," Trump tweeted.
The officials told the Post that the White House has been in direct communication with acting ICE dDirector Mark Morgan and other ICE officials, working around McAleenan.
"Due to law-enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, the agency will not offer specific details related to enforcement operations before the conclusion of those actions. As always, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who have received criminal convictions; have pending criminal charges; are determined to be a national security or public safety threat; or are an immigration fugitive," ICE spokesperson Matthew Bourke said in a statement to The Hill.
"In fact, nearly 90 percent of aliens arrested by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations component in FY2018 had received criminal convictions or had pending criminal charges. However, as the agency has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and — if found removable by final order — removal from the United States."
ICE has been preparing agents and equipment for the multiday operation and is planning to use hotels as temporary staging areas to detain parents and children until all the family are together and ready for deportation, according to the report.
Officials acknowledged that people they cannot immediately deport will likely be caught up in the arrests and subsequently released with ankle monitoring devices.
Morgan, ICE Deputy Director Matt Albence and others are reportedly keen to begin the operation despite the risk of public condemnation.
“In February, we sent letters to these individuals telling them they had an order of removal,” Morgan told reporters this week. “We’re at the point right now where we have no other choice but to use our interior enforcement statutory authority to identify where these individuals are and remove them.”
However, some Homeland Security and ICE officials told the Post they believe the operation is being used for political purposes as Trump tries to highlight his stance on immigration ahead of his reelection campaign.