The specter of sweeping immigration raids this week in several major cities has sparked unrest among advocates and Democrats as the Trump administration escalates its efforts to deport those in the country illegally.
The operation, expected to begin Sunday, fulfills a pledge from President Trump, who earlier this month vowed the raids would commence after delaying them for a few weeks.
“People come into our country illegally, we’re taking them out legally. It’s very simple,” Trump told reporters Friday. “It’s not something I like doing.”
The move has riled up critics and lawmakers who have in recent weeks sought to shine a light on the Trump administration's treatment of migrants. Democrats and immigration advocacy groups have warned that the raids could lead to further family separations and increase populations in already overcrowded detention facilities.
The exercise was originally scheduled to take place last month. But after its details were widely publicized, the president tweeted on June 22 that the raids would be delayed for two weeks to give lawmakers an opportunity to hammer out changes to the nation's immigration laws.
The odds of such an agreement were practically zero given control of Congress is divided and recent proposals to address the asylum system have failed to gain any traction.
As a result, the raids will start on Sunday and could last through Friday.
“There’s nothing to be secret about,” Trump said last Friday. “If the word gets out, it gets out. Because hundreds of people know about it. It's a major operation.”
Sergio Gonzales, deputy director of The Immigration Hub, said the progressive group is anticipating federal agents will target between 5,000 and 7,000 people with a focus on 10 major cities: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and San Francisco.
An ICE spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the undertaking, citing concerns for the safety of agents. The agency will prioritize the arrest and removal of those who pose a security threat, but the spokesman acknowledged others found during the raids without proper documentation may be subject to arrest and removal.
“[Trump] continues to carry out these really wide, sweeping operations that have huge adverse impacts and also inflict a lot of pain on people,” Gonzales said. “And in a lot of cases amount to what you would call human rights abuses.”
The plans have been met with resistance among Democrats, immigration advocacy groups and local officials whose cities are likely to be targeted.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday that city police would not assist in the raids. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Friday that the city “will never support” round-ups that are “only meant to spread fear.”
The American Civil Liberties Union preemptively filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration days before the raids began in an effort to protect asylum seekers from deportation, and advocacy groups nationwide have mobilized to inform immigrant communities about their rights and legal resources.
The raids could lead to family separations if single parents or individual children are detained, a point of concern among Democrats.
“Families belong together,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a press conference Thursday. “Every person in America has rights. These families are hardworking Members of our communities and our country. This brutal action will terrorize children and tear families apart.”
The arrests of family members could produce striking images at a time when Democrats are hammering the Trump administration over its treatment of migrants.
The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on Friday focused on the administration's family separation policy, where lawmakers testified that they witnessed migrants living in shoddy conditions without proper hygiene or access to basic necessities.
Gonzales, the Immigration Hub official, accused the Trump administration of hypocrisy by simultaneously arguing it needs additional resources to handle the influx of migrants and rounding up scores of individuals who must be processed and in some cases held in detention facilities.
“Now you’re going to be sending more people into these places where there’s well documented abuses and mistreatment,” he said.
But administration officials and Republican lawmakers have defended the decision to move forward with the raids, attempting to downplay who will be targeted by the sweeps and blaming Democrats for failing to compromise on legislation.
Trump claimed the operation is focused on “criminals” and “bad players,” though opponents argue the president tends to broadly paint immigrants in those terms.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, portrayed the deportations as a necessary law enforcement mission and downplayed concerns that the round-ups will further stress an already taxed system.
“You cannot forfeit the other parts of the pipeline,” he said on CNN last week. “The end of the pipeline of illegal immigration is deportation.”
Government data showed the number of border crossings dropped by nearly 30 percent in May, and Trump has been complimentary of Mexico for increasing its efforts to control the surge of migrants headed for the southern border.
Despite progress on that front, Trump portrayed the raids as a necessary measure as he seeks to prove he's willing to enforce his hard-line immigration agenda.
“I have an obligation to do it,” Trump said Friday. “What the Democrats should be doing now is they should be changing the loopholes. They should be changing asylum.”