The Trump administration will launch an operation to target and remove undocumented immigrant families who have received final orders of removal in an attempt to deter future families from making the trek across the border, the new head of immigration enforcement told reporters Wednesday.
Mark Morgan, who was picked to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement just weeks ago, did not reveal when an operation would occur or the scope of such an action. He maintained that the agency was still targeting its previous priorities, like removing those with criminal convictions, and that there will not be a significant shift in operations.
In talking with reporters, however, Morgan focused on a group of 2,000 family units who recently arrived, were part of an expedited court process, ordered removed from the country, and given a notice earlier this year to work with ICE to leave voluntarily. Morgan said no undocumented immigrant was exempt from enforcement, including families.
“It’s going to send a strong message to those individuals contemplating coming here illegally not to do so,” he said. “Not only will we be enforcing the law, maintaining the integrity of the system, but we’re also going to send a powerful message to individuals in the northern triangle countries: Do not come, do not risk it.”
Morgan’s comments come just two days after President Trump said ICE would begin the process of removing millions of immigrants next week, a notion that is practically impossible but alarmed advocates from across the country. The administration has been struggling to level off the numbers of families crossing the border every month, just as Trump heads into another presidential campaign cycle.
One former ICE official said the focus on family units was discouraging.
“This administration is no longer focused on the actual dangerous criminals threatening our national security,” the former official told BuzzFeed News. “They’re completely focused on winning in 2020. They have begun utilizing every apparatus available to them to target, separate, and terrify small children in order to claim a ‘win’ on immigration.”
In recent days, attorneys and civil rights organizations have sent out notices that they would be prepared to help immigrants caught up in any operation and have reminded individuals that they are not legally required to open the door to ICE officers.
Even still, if the agency were to focus on a few thousand family units to arrest and remove from the country, the logistical hurdles would be enormous, former officials said. Perhaps most importantly, the agency has limited detention space to hold families together as they prepare them for deportation. In March, the agency shrunk its capacity at one of its three family residential facilities in Texas.
What’s more, operations focused on families also require more officers and time to make sure children are properly cared for and kept with their parents or caregivers.
Kevin Landy, the former head of ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning under the Obama administration, said the limitations of detention space means that any operation focused on a large number of families would have to occur over a period of time and be paced so that the requisite number of beds could be available.
“There are all kinds of difficulties to arresting families, it’s why traditionally ICE is reluctant to do it. It is going to be very traumatic for the children and their parents,” he said, noting that the uniformed officers will arrive with various firearms.
“What it will look like is a police raid to arrest young kids, who are not criminals, not juvenile delinquents and need to be arrested, but young kids who were brought here by their parents.”