Trump administration plans unprecedented roundup of 2,000 family members in deportation raids

'This is not about fear. This is about the rule of law,' ICE chief tells ABC.

June 22, 2019, 1:19 AM

The Trump administration planned to deport more than 2,000 undocumented immigrants in as many as 10 cities, administration officials said this week, in an unprecedented show of force aimed at deterring illegal migration of families.

Cities like Los Angeles, Baltimore and Chicago immediately fired back, saying they wouldn't cooperate with the raids and warned residents to make sure they had functional locks on their doors. Residents are not required to open their doors to officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless they have a warrant signed by a judge.

In an interview with ABC News Live, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Mark Morgan said there were no plans to commence deportations in the range of "millions," as President Donald Trump’s tweet Monday suggested was imminent.

PHOTO: A man is detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, Oct. 14, 2015, in Los Angeles, Calif.
A man is detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, Oct. 14, 2015, in Los Angeles, Calif.
John Moore/Getty Images, FILE

But Morgan told ABC News Live's Devin Dwyer that the "integrity" of the system was in question and that families, in particular, needed to be convinced to stop trying to come to the U.S. illegally.

"This is not about fear," Morgan said. "No one is instilling fear in anyone. This is about the rule of law and maintaining the integrity of the system."

Morgan did not confirm specifics on upcoming raids, which were widely reported Friday. Another administration official said there were some 2,040 family members who are living inside the United States illegally who have been identified for expedited removal. Those people were identified as living in as many as 10 cities: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City and San Francisco.

ICE later issued a statement saying that it did not provide details in advance of operations.

Law enforcement officials said the threat of deportation raids would hurt efforts by police departments to keep cities safe because people living in immigrant communities would grow too fearful to cooperate.

"When you have a city like ours with 600,000 immigrants, and you have political statements being made that we're going to go round up millions of family members, it stokes fear and panic in our community," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told ABC News Live on Friday.

Trump's plan, if executed, would be considered unprecedented because it targeted families in their homes, rather than picking up people who had been arrested for crimes.

"This is the largest enforcement operation targeting families I've ever heard of," said John Cohen, a former Homeland Security official and ABC contributor.

Cohen, a frequent critic of the administration, called it "mind-boggling."

"There are significant threats facing the U.S. from Iran, foreign terrorist groups, domestic extremist organizations, violent gangs and drug traffickers," he added. "Those threats should be a priority -- not rounding up families."

John Sandweg, former acting director of ICE under Barack Obama, said leaking details of the operations in advance would put agency personnel at risk.

"They are jeopardizing the mission," he said.

Morgan said going after families living illegally in the U.S. was needed to deter more undocumented people from coming to the United States.

"Right now, the greatest pull factors for families to come here is they know that once they arrive in the U.S., they remain here untouched. We have to change that," Morgan said.

A record number of migrant families have arrived at the southern border in recent months. Of the roughly 144,000 migrants stopped by U.S. authorities in May, more than 105,000 came as families. The numbers represent the largest North American land migration trend in more than a decade.

Under U.S. law, people are allowed to apply for asylum and it can take months or years for their cases to wind their way through court.

Last month, Trump called for a "tougher" approach and tapped Morgan, who briefly led the Border Patrol in the Obama administration, to lead ICE. Morgan said Trump's tweet vowing "millions" would begin to be deported next week didn't reflect a major change in operations. ICE routinely conducts deportations, including 226,000 people last year.

But unlike the Obama administration, which focused limited resources on picking up undocumented immigrants who had been convicted of crimes, Morgan said "all demographics" -- including families without criminal histories other than immigration infractions -- were on the table.

"We’re enforcing the law against all demographics, and we’re trying to send a message to the family units that don’t come here and don’t put your life at risk, your children’s life at risk," he said.

Further complicating those plans are the resource limits set by Congress. The federal agencies that handle immigration have requested additional funds to continue basic functions including the housing of unaccompanied migrant kids.

Morgan later told ABC News that if Congress doesn’t increase funding for immigration management, Homeland Security would start redirecting funds from other federal law enforcement divisions including the Transportation Security Agency.

PHOTO: In this April 4, 2019, file photo, Mark Morgan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.
In this April 4, 2019, file photo, Mark Morgan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Cliff Owen/AP, FILE

Trump’s tweet has angered and worried law enforcement officials and teachers unions that said the threat of deportations only spreads fear among communities and makes their jobs harder.

Javier Guerra, the chief of police for Sunland Park, New Mexico, said he wants residents to know that his local officers don’t enforce immigration law and that it’s important that they still report crimes and work with police.

"I’m not going to ask about your citizenship," he told ABC News. "I don’t care if you don’t speak English."

Several mayors of the cities mentioned by the official immediately leveled criticism at the possible raids.

"We are all aware of the threat from President Trump regarding raids by ICE, and in response, Chicago has taken concrete steps to support our immigrant communities," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. "I have directed – and Superintendent Johnson has confirmed – that CPD has terminated ICE's access to CPD's databases related to federal immigration enforcement activities."

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said in a statement, "I am deeply disturbed by the President’s recent comments around immigration and even more troubled at the reports of increased immigration enforcement. I want to remind Baltimore City residents that they have access to an attorney if they have been detained by ICE. Providing legal representation to those facing deportation maintains trust in law enforcement and our local institutions and keeps us all safe."

Even the mayor of Trump's home city offered damning criticism of the plan.

"Regardless of immigration status, immigrants in DC are our neighbors, coworkers, family members, and valued members of our community," Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said. "The President should understand that not only are these threats cruel and antithetical to our American values, they are actually making our communities less safe by sending more residents into hiding, cut off from resources, support, and opportunity."

Schools, too, have said that deportation fears can impact attendance or cooperation with teachers. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Trump was wrongfully blaming immigrant families for the nation’s grievances and called his efforts "craven" and "cruel."

Morgan dismissed the concerns and blamed Congress for laws that require the agency to release families pending a court hearing and said legislators should allow ICE to detain parents for longer than the court-mandated limit of 20 days.

"I’m absolutely committed to absolutely understanding that this administration is 100 percent trying to do the right thing for the right reasons," he said.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty, Justin Fishel, Stephanie Ebbs and Sophie Tatum contributed to this report.

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