WASHINGTON >> Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expected to send agents into communities Sunday morning to begin a coordinated operation deporting undocumented immigrant family members across the country, according to two Department of Homeland Security officials.
The effort has been planned as a show of force to deter migration to the southwestern border, but immigration agents and experts have also described the planning and logistics for the operation as flawed.
The effort will focus on more than 2,000 undocumented family members who entered the United States in recent years and had their cases expedited on a specialized docket and were served deportation orders in at least 10 major cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans.
ICE branches in additional cities were also told to prepare to conduct deportations, according to one of the homeland security officials.
It remained unclear whether families in all of the cities would be detained. According to one federal official, agents in New York have been instructed to go to the homes of families in the country illegally and instruct them to leave the country in 30 days. The families may be fitted with an ankle bracelet for tracking.
In an interview with ABC News, Mark Morgan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that 2,040 family members would be targeted, without specifying the timing of the operation.
“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.”
Such operations have been carried out under previous administrations, including that of President Barack Obama. While people are often detained at home, work or courthouses, the operation Sunday would be a coordinated effort across the country. Morgan is hoping the deportations will quell a record number of Central Americans seeking asylum who have overwhelmed Border Patrol facilities.
It is rare for an administration to publicize an operation days before it is conducted, said Theresa Cardinal Brown, a former policy adviser at Customs and Border Protection.
“Having this all out in the public open like this is not ideal if your goal is to apprehend people and detain them,” said Brown, director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “If your goal is to put fear in people and make them afraid, mission accomplished.”
While President Donald Trump said on Twitter this week that ICE would deport millions of immigrants in the country illegally, the agency does not have the resources to carry out a mission of that size. The roughly 6,000 deportation officers in ICE also do not know the addresses of many of the immigrants.
Some immigration experts doubted that the agency would reach the target of 2,000, partly because families most likely fled their homes after Trump’s tweet late Monday night. “They know we’re coming,” said Ronald D. Vitiello, former acting director of ICE.
In advance of the effort, agents from Homeland Security Investigations, who usually conduct long-term investigations rather than deportations, have been directed to join deportation officers.
Homeland security officials have been wary of the coordinated effort because it could lead to the separation of families. It is unclear what will happen if ICE agents encounter parents who lack legal status at home while their children, who may be citizens, are away.
“Past raids have left children alone and afraid in empty homes, praying they won’t be left to care for younger siblings by themselves, with no idea if they’ll see their parents again,” said Sandra Cordero, director of Families Belong Together, an advocacy group.
If officers find parents with children who are citizens, ICE is likely to book a hotel room until a relative can claim the children. The parents would then be taken to family detention centers, where there is limited space.
Affected families would stay at those centers until officials secure travel documents for their deportation. Many of the families are likely to reopen their immigration cases because they did not receive proper notice for a removal hearing.
Today, the Los Angeles Police Department said it would not help the federal government with any planned raids.
The chief of the Los Angeles Police, Michel R. Moore, had earlier told The Los Angeles Times that he expected the raid to affect about 140 people in Southern California.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California criticized the proposed deportations, saying the plans were “cruel, misdirected and are creating unnecessary fear and anxiety.”
He added, “California is a place of refuge — that includes our schools, our courts and our hospitals and clinics.”