An Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation to arrest thousands of undocumented immigrants in major cities is scheduled to begin Sunday after it had been postponed by President Donald Trump over two weeks ago, two senior officials with the Department of Homeland Security confirmed to NBC News.
The raids, which are sparking outrage and concern among immigrant advocates and opposition from Democrats, will take place over multiple days and include "collateral" deportations, The New York Times first reported, citing two current and one former homeland security officials who were not named. In those cases, ICE agents might detain people who were not initially targeted, but happened to be there during the raids. The final details of the operation "remain in flux" for security reasons, the report said.
Officials not authorized to discuss the matter publicly also told The Associated Press it's possible the operations could start later.
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Still, activists ramped up efforts to prepare by bolstering know-your-rights pocket guides, circulating information about hotlines and planning public demonstrations. Vigils outside of detention centers were set for Friday, to be followed by protests Saturday in Miami and Chicago.
At least 2,000 immigrant families, including many who face final deportation orders yet remain in the country illegally, are expected to be targeted in the operation, the unnamed officials said.
The raids are expected to target 10 cities that were previously revealed, though some of the cities may change before Sunday, a source told NBC News. Previously named cities were: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans.
In New Orleans, any operations were put on hold due to severe weather. The city tweeted that it confirmed with ICE that enforcement would be suspended through the weekend as the region braced for the first hurricane of the season.
"Our communities have been in constant fear," Estela Vara, a Chicago-area organizer said Thursday at a rally outside the city's Immigration and Custom Enforcement offices where some activists chanted "Immigration Not Deportation!"
The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, filed a federal lawsuit in New York on behalf of nonprofit organizations that work with refugees to protect asylum seekers from the operation.
The lawsuit argues that those individuals weren't allowed a fair chance to request asylum and their deportation orders aren't valid. Most of them are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The ACLU alleges "massive bureaucratic errors" led to a failure to send proper notices to appear in court. Thousands were ordered removed without attending hearings.
The ICE operation is similar to ones conducted regularly since 2003 that often produce hundreds of arrests. It is something unusual to target families, as opposed to immigrants with criminal histories, but not unprecedented. The Obama and Trump administrations have targeted families in previous operations.
But this one is notable really because of the politics swirling around it.
Trump announced on Twitter last month that the sweep would mark the beginning of an effort to deport millions of people who are in the country illegally, a near-impossibility given the limited resources of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which makes the arrests and carries out deportation orders.
Then he abruptly canceled it on June 22 after a phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while lawmakers worked to pass a $4.6 billion border aid package.
"At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border," Trump wrote on Twitter at the time. "If not, Deportations start!"
The agency said in a statement that it would not discuss specifics about enforcement operations.
"As always, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security," according to the statement.
Trump started hinting anew in recent days that more removals were coming. He said last weekend they would be starting "fairly soon."
"Well, I don't call them raids," he said. "I say they came in illegally and we're bringing them out legally."
Ken Cuccinelli, the new head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, told CNN on Wednesday that the raids were "absolutely going to happen."
Pelosi said she hoped the administration would reconsider. "Families belong together," she said.
Advocates in border areas have "received word" that up to 1,000 families are expected to arrive at an immigration center in Dilley, Texas, according to attorneys representing separated families in a long-running lawsuit.
In court papers filed Thursday, the attorneys said the government has not responded to questions about the operation.
The administration has been straining to manage a border crisis, and some officials believe flashy shows of force in deporting families would deter others migrants from coming. But others have criticized any move that draws resources away from the border at a time when the Border Patrol is detaining four times the number of people it can hold. Also, a watchdog report found filthy, potentially dangerous conditions at some stations.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a former immigrant advocate, accused the administration of showing a "willingness to be cruel at every turn. It sickens me that this is this is the United States of America. We are so much better than this."
House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, blamed Pelosi for the raids, saying she had done "nothing" since they were delayed. "It is the speaker who caused this problem," he said.
He said Trump would have postponed the raids again if he saw progress in House.
Some activists said they were gearing up for operations to start Sunday and planned to protest. Organizers estimated a rally planned for Saturday in Chicago would draw around 10,000 people.
"We will not be swayed by fear and fiat," said Justin Valas with Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago.
Advocates have ramped up know-your-rights training since Trump took office, reminding immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, about their right to remain silent and to ask authorities for proper paperwork.
They have also explained that immigrants can often avoid arrest simply by not opening doors to agents, who need permission to enter private homes. That has forced ICE officers to wait outside courthouses and other public places to make arrests.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, asked about potential raids at a news conference on Wednesday, said the city had cut ICE off from access to any Chicago police databases, NBC Chicago reported.
"Chicago is and will always be a welcoming city that will never tolerate ICE tearing our families apart in our communities. The threat of raids has forced our residents to hide in the shadows, live in constant fear and not go to school or show up for work," Lightfoot said.
She said she told ICE leadership in Chicago of her "strong objection to any raids and the things that are happening that are terrorizing and traumatizing our community."
Others said they continued to do what they had since Trump took office and were skeptical of him following through on the threat.
"We don't want to alarm folks, but we want to alert folks," said Melissa Taveras of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
--Daniel Macht and Allie Weintraub contributed to this story.