The US head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement says efforts to deport families with orders to leave the country will continue after an upcoming national sweep that President Donald Trump says will start Sunday.
Matthew Albence, the agency's acting director, said targets were on an "accelerated docket" of immigration court cases for predominantly Central Americans who recently arrived at the US border in unprecedented numbers. Similar operations occurred in 2016 under President Barack Obama and in 2017 under Trump.
"This family operation is nothing new," Albence told The Associated Press. "It's part of our day-to-day operations. We're trying to surge some additional resources to deal with this glut of cases that came out of the accelerated docket, but after this operation is over, these cases are still going to be viable cases that we'll be out there investigating and pursuing."
The operation will target people with final deportation orders on 10 major court dockets, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. Albence said that doesn't mean arrests will be limited to certain areas. Authorities will go where their investigations lead, even if it's five states away from where the case is filed.
Trump said authorities were "focused on criminals as much as we can before we do anything else."
"It starts on Sunday and they're going to take people out and they're going to bring them back to their countries or they're going to take criminals out, put them in prison, or put them in prison in the countries they came from."
The operation further inflamed the political debate over immigration as Trump appeals to his base with a pledge to crack down on migrants and Democrats cast the president and his administration as inhumane for going after families.
The Obama-era family operation in 2016 resulted in about 10 per cent of those targeted being arrested, and the2017 effort had a lower arrest rate, Albence said. Other operations that have targeted people with criminal arrest records have yielded arrests rates of about 30 per cent, aided by access to law enforcement databases.
"If you have an individual that's been arrested for a criminal violation, you're going to have much more of an investigative footprint," Albence said.
Administration officials have said they are targeting about 2,000 people, which would yield about 200 arrests based on previous crackdowns. Trump has said on Twitter that his agents plan to arrest millions of immigrants in the country illegally.