U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered immigration enforcement officials to conduct a mass roundup of migrants who have received deportation orders, in an operation that is expected to begin Sunday, according to The Washington Post.
The newspaper said the operation would target up to 2,000 families in large cities that are major immigration destinations, including Houston, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles. It said the information about the raids was based on three U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Trump tweeted Monday that the United States would start deporting "millions of illegal aliens" from the country next week, but the announcement appeared to catch the country's immigration officials by surprise.
Administration officials said the deportation plans have been under consideration for months, but immigration officials said earlier this week that raids on migrant families were not imminent.
The Post said discussions about the scope of the operation continued Friday at the White House, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan has warned that an operation to arrest migrants in their homes and at work sites risks separating children from their parents.
Acting ICE Director Mark Morgan told reporters this week that the operation was necessary for the integrity of the immigration system.
He said families could not be exempted from immigration law and said the law “must be applied fairly and equally.” He urged families with deportation orders to turn themselves in to immigration officials.
The Post said ICE was planning to “use hotel rooms as temporary staging areas to detain parents and children until all the members of a family are together and ready for deportation.”
Trump administration officials say the 1 million migrants who have been issued final deportation orders but are still living in the U.S. will be targeted first in the operation. However, the highest U.S. deportation total for a single year was recorded in 2013, when about 435,000 were sent home.
It is unusual for public officials to disclose law enforcement raids in advance, for fear of alerting the targets of the raids, and possibly endangering police and other law enforcement personnel.
Immigration activists say the president is using the operation for political purposes and warn that it is causing fear in the immigrant community, leading migrants to miss work and school.
Administration officials say such operations can have a deterrent effect on other migrants considering crossing into the United States illegally.