Immigrant communities are bracing for nationwide raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to begin on Sunday, planning protests and working with legal aid groups to provide advice to those affected.
The raids are expected to target recently arrived migrant families who have already received final orders of removal from an immigration judge.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, speaking to reporters on Thursday, declined to discuss the timing and details of the operation, citing operational security. But, he added: "ICE needs to be able to exercise its authority and protect the integrity of the immigration system."
At the same time, administration officials — and the president himself — have made clear that the raids are imminent, and several media outlets have reported the raids are scheduled to start Sunday.
The raids are expected to focus on 10 major cities where the Department of Justice has sped up immigration cases for thousands of recent arrivals, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Houston.
Immigrant advocates in those cities have had several weeks to prepare.
"We tell people to know their rights, to know that they don't have to tell anyone their immigration status, they don't have to open the door for anyone unless there is a signed warrant by a judge," said Andrea Guttin, legal director at Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative.
"We are concerned that family members might be picked up additionally in these raids, not just people with deportation orders," Guttin said.
Mark Morgan, then-acting head of ICE, defended the raids aimed at migrant families in an interview with NPR last month, saying his agency is only enforcing the law. "My duty is not to look at the political optics or the will of the American people; that's for the politicians to decide," Morgan told NPR's John Burnett. Morgan is now acting head of Customs and Border Protection.
Matt Bourke, a spokesman for ICE, said the agency doesn't offer specific details on enforcement operations, in part, to protect the safety and security of personnel.
But President Trump has been threatening raids since last month. Trump said on Friday that the raids would begin "fairly soon." And on Wednesday, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, told reporters at the White House that ICE raids are "absolutely going to happen."
John Sandweg, who served as acting director of ICE under President Barack Obama, said that announcing when raids will take place undermines the operation. Sandweg is now an attorney with Frontier Solutions.
"It is confusing to me why you would ever advertise an operation like this in advance of actually conducting it," he said.
"That violates the cardinal rule which is that you maintain the element of surprise both to protect the safety of your officers and to ensure the effectiveness of the operation," Sandweg said.
The Trump administration has been trying discourage Central American migrants from making the trip north. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have crossed the southern border this year, many fleeing violence and poverty to seek asylum in the U.S.
"By doing this, we're going to send the message to these individuals," Morgan told NPR last month. "We want to stop them from paying the cartels and making them a billion-dollar industry and risking their lives. We want to also send that message, if you want to come here, please do so legally. Don't risk your life."
Freelance journalist Robert Moore contributed to this story.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Immigrant communities are once again bracing for nationwide raids targeting migrant families. The raids are expected to begin Sunday.
Here's acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli speaking to reporters at the White House yesterday.
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KEN CUCCINELLI: They're absolutely going to happen. There's approximately a million people in this country with removal orders.
SHAPIRO: These raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are expected to target a much smaller group, probably a few thousand migrants in total.
Joining us with the latest is NPR's Joel Rose here in the studio.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: President Trump first threatened these raids last month before then calling them off. What do we know about the current plans?
ROSE: Well, as before, these raids are expected to target migrant families who've recently arrived in the U.S., mostly from Central America, and who've already received their final orders of deportation. We think they'll be concentrated mainly in 10 cities - Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Houston among them. These are places where the Department of Justice has sped up immigration cases of many recent arrivals.
We asked ICE for more details. They declined to comment on operations. But at the same time, administration officials are saying that these raids are imminent.
SHAPIRO: We're going to hear from Houston's mayor in just a moment. But why would they announce that these raids are coming? Doesn't that kind of undermine the mission?
ROSE: Well, I put that question to former ICE Director John Sandweg. Here is what he had to say.
JOHN SANDWEG: It's confusing for me why you would ever advertise an operation like this in advance of actually conducting it. I mean, that violates the cardinal rule, which is that you maintain the element of surprise, both to protect the safety of your officers and to ensure the effectiveness of the operation.
ROSE: Sandweg thinks there is tension inside the Department of Homeland Security about that very question because, first, President Trump tweeted that these raids were coming and also that this current operation has been leaked to the public.
But Sandweg also thinks there are big concerns inside DHS about going after migrant families in the first place in this public way because, you know, Sandweg says if children are separated from their parents as a result of this - of these raids, it could really be a black eye for ICE and could potentially - that could potentially happen if these raids - if the parents are in the country illegally but the children are U.S. citizens. So - and all of this is happening, of course, at a time when DHS is already taking a lot of heat for how it's treating migrants in its custody.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. Within immigrant communities, how are people preparing for this?
ROSE: Well, they've seen this coming for several weeks and have been planning in preparation. They think this operation might put entire communities at risk of deportation, not just these migrant families.
I talked to Andrea Guttin. She is the legal director at Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative.
ANDREA GUTTIN: We tell people to know their rights, to know that they don't have to tell anyone their immigration status. They don't have to open the door for anyone unless there is a signed warrant by a judge, which is different than an administrative warrant signed by ICE. We are concerned that family members might be picked up additionally in these raids, not just people with deportation orders.
ROSE: There are also protests planned over the coming days. The ACLU has gone to court preemptively, hoping to get a judge to block the raids. The ACLU argues that these cases were moved through the court system so quickly that many of the migrants probably didn't even get notices to appear in court at all.
SHAPIRO: Why is the administration so focused on these families in particular?
ROSE: It's true that past administrations - in past administrations, these would - families would not have been a priority for deportation. Under President Obama, for example, ICE focused more on immigrants with criminal records, which the majority of these migrant families don't have.
But this administration wants to discourage Central American migrants from coming north. We've seen huge numbers crossing the border this year, although they dipped a bit last month. And the administration really wants to show it is willing to crack down on these migrants if and when they lose their asylum cases.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks a lot.
ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.