WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – A nationwide wave of arrests of immigrants facing deportation will commence over the weekend, U.S. President Donald Trump said yesterday, confirming that the plan, intended to discourage a surge of Central American migrants, was on track after a delay.
The operation is expected to target hundreds of families in 10 cities that have recently been ordered deported by an immigration court but have not yet left the country.
Trump revealed the operation on Twitter last month and then postponed it. It is unusual for the government to announce deportation operations ahead of time.
“People are coming into this country illegally, we are taking them out legally,” Trump told reporters on Friday, calling it a “major operation” that would mainly focus on removing criminals.
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 advance publicity.
The president, speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, said he was not concerned that the advance notice could help targeted immigrants evade arrest.
“If the word gets out, it gets out,” he said.
Since Trump first spoke of the plan, a number of city mayors, nearly all Democrats, have repeated their long-standing policies of not cooperating with ICE officials on deportations and have advertised helplines people can call to understand their rights.
Democratic lawmakers, among others, have also sought to inform immigrants of their rights, telling them not to open their door for ICE unless agents present a court-issued warrant, and not to say or sign anything before speaking with a lawyer.
Trump, a Republican 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.