Immigration Agency Says It Plans Deportation Operation Aimed at Undocumented Families

Article author: 
Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Miriam Jordan
Article publisher: 
The New York Times
Article date: 
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Article category: 
National Issues
Article Body: 

WASHINGTON - The acting directtor of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said on Wednesday that he would follow through with plans to send agents into communities to round up and deport undocumented families, in the Trump administration’s latest attempt to deter large-scale migration of Central Americans to the southwest border.

The acting director, Mark Morgan, who has signaled for weeks that there would be a heightened focus on deporting families, told reporters that agents would target more than 2,000 immigrant family members who already have deportation orders.

“Do not come,” Mr. Morgan said in describing the message he wants to send to people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who think they will be able to remain in the United States once they get across the border. “Do not risk it. Do not pay the cartels an exorbitant amount of money because once you receive due process and get a final order, you will be removed.”

Mr. Morgan’s comments came after President Trump tweeted on Monday that the immigration agency would deport millions of people next week....

The agency has, however, taken steps in recent days to prepare for mass arrests...

“I don’t want to send ICE agents to their workplace,” Mr. Morgan said. “I don’t want to send ICE agents to their home. I don’t want to send ICE agents to try and track them down and apprehend them in their communities and town. But we’ve applied due process. We’ve tried to work with them.”

The targeted operation is expected to occur over the course of multiple days and is expected in the coming weeks...agents would be rounding up undocumented immigrant families if they failed to report to an immigration agency field office for deportation.

Immigration officials have said the increase in migration has crowded facilities and pushed resources beyond capacity, prompting the release of migrants into the general population.

More than 144,200 migrants were taken into custody at the border last month, the highest monthly total in 13 years. Many of them seek asylum but only a minority of them ultimately win their cases in immigration courts. The families are usually released...

Among the 2,000 undocumented immigrants being targeted now are those whose court cases were expedited, having typically missed a court date and been ordered deported from the country in absentia. They were sent letters in February demanding they report to an immigrations and customs office to leave the country, Mr. Morgan said.

While Mr. Morgan said the agency would still target violent criminals for removal, “priorities do not mean other categories are exempt.”

“And again,” he added, “I think family units are a good example of that.”

Homeland Security Department officials have changed their minds multiple times in recent days over when to start the operations...

“It’s people, and people are complicated,” said Ronald D. Vitiello, the former acting director of the immigration and customs agency who had his nomination pulled by Mr. Trump after he warned of the bad impressions the raids would leave. “Some of them might be sick and need to be treated for illness. Some might be separated in a way that the child might be at school and the parents at home.”

More than 207,000 migrants have been released since December of last year, Mr. Morgan said. Many of them, he said, have taken advantage of laws that prevent the extended confinement of children, which enabled families to be quickly released after being apprehended.

“It’s clear if you grab a child that’s your passport in the United States,” Mr. Morgan said.

But the mass arrests come with logistical challenges.

There is limited space in the family detention facilities where migrants would be held while the government tries to secure their travel documents, which are required to deport them. But keeping families there could result in violations of the agreement, known as the Flores settlement, that established standards for the detention of children and limits it to 20 days.

While immigration authorities could theoretically deport all those who have evaded removal orders, they will not be able to remove them all immediately. They are likely to contend with motions to reopen cases of those migrants who missed their hearing along with requests for a stay of removal.

Among the reasons immigrants could cite to justify reopening their case would be their failure to receive proper notice of the removal hearing...

The result, immigration lawyers predicted, is likely to be a flood of challenges clogging the already overburdened court system.

“Lawyers are going to come running,” said Kelli Stump, an immigration lawyer in Oklahoma City who specializes in removal defense.

A version of this article appears in print on June 19, 2019, on Page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: About 2,000 Family Members Are Focus of Deportation Plan.