A nationwide wave of arrests of immigrants facing deportation will commence this weekend, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday, confirming that the plan, intended to discourage a surge of Central American migrants, was on track after a delay.
The operation, to be carried out in 10 cities, is expected to target families that have recently been ordered deported by an immigration court but have not yet left the country.
Trump previously announced the operation on Twitter last month and then postponed it. It is unusual for the government to announce deportation operations ahead of time.
In a typical week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests thousands of immigrants who are staying in the country illegally, according to government data. Most of those arrests are made without any special publicity.
Immigrant advocates have said advance word of the weekend raids could help some of those targeted to evade arrest.
But the president, speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, said he did not share those concerns, as the deportations were not a secret.
“People are coming into this country illegally, we are taking them out legally,” he said. “If the word gets out, it gets out.”
Trump, who has made cracking down on illegal immigration a centerpiece of his administration, is trying to deal with a surge of mostly Central American families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Many families are approaching border officials to seek asylum.
The latest planned arrests would follow widespread criticism of the crowded, unsanitary conditions in which immigrants are being detained along the southwestern border and concerns about children being separated from adults by border officials.
The Trump administration has increased pressure on the governments of Mexico and several Central American countries to stem the flow of migrants reaching the U.S. border.
Trump is to meet with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales at the White House on Monday for talks on immigration and security. Morales may sign an agreement with Trump declaring Guatemala a safe destination for asylum seekers, which could prevent many from applying in the United States, according to officials in both governments.
Alongside these international efforts, Trump has sought to deter border crossings with highly publicized crack-downs in the United States.
ICE will target families whose immigration cases were handled through an expedited court process that began in 2018, the acting ICE director said last month.
The agency has notified about 2,000 of those people that they face deportation because they failed to appear in court, acting ICE Director Mark Morgan said last month.
ICE has declined to discuss the weekend’s operation, including whether those families are among those being targeted.
“We’ll focus on criminals as much as a we can,” Trump said on Friday.
Mayors of a number of cities expected to be targeted have said they would not cooperate with ICE officials on deportations.
Democratic lawmakers, among others, have circulated information advising immigrants of their rights, telling people they do not have to open their door for ICE unless the agents present a court-issued warrant.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Jonathan Allen in New York, Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Writing by Susan Heavey and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)