Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were expected to carry out raids in several major cities on Sunday as part of a sweeping immigration crackdown, under orders from U.S. President Donald Trump.
They will be looking for as many as 2,000 people who have been ordered deported but have not left the U.S.
Administration officials have said the national sweep, underway until at least Thursday, would yield about 200 arrests based on previous crackdowns.
The White House insists the raids will focus on criminals already on deportation lists, but there are concerns law-abiding undocumented migrants could be swept up as well.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted on Saturday that he had received reports that the crackdown had already begun in his city, in Brooklyn and Harlem.
The Democratic mayor has said his city would not co-operate with ICE.
The raids were expected in Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Houston and Miami, according to immigration reform advocates.
Advocates in some cities have been coaching migrants on their rights, including not to respond if agents knock on the door unless they show a warrant signed by a judge.
Texas Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee said on Saturday that many Houston religious leaders will provide sanctuary on Sunday.
On Friday, Trump confirmed that the plan, intended to discourage a surge of Central American migrants, was on track after a delay.
Trump revealed the operation on Twitter last month and then postponed it. It is unusual for the U.S. government to announce deportation operations ahead of time.
“People are coming into this country illegally; we are taking them out legally,” Trump told reporters on Friday, calling it a “major operation” that would mainly focus on removing criminals.
In a typical week, ICE arrests thousands of immigrants who are staying in the country illegally, according to government data. Most of those arrests are made without any advance publicity.
Since Trump first spoke of the plan, a number of city mayors, nearly all Democrats, have repeated their long-standing policies of not co-operating with ICE officials on deportations and have advertised helplines people can call to understand their rights.
Democratic lawmakers, among others, have also sought to inform immigrants of their rights, telling them not to open their door for ICE unless agents present a court-issued warrant, and not to say or sign anything before speaking with a lawyer.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a lawsuit to stop the impending deportations, citing bureaucratic errors the ACLU says made it impossible for people to know when their hearings were being held. It said some of the targeted people were unaware they were subject to a “final order of removal.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday mass deportation roundups would begin “fairly soon” as migrant advocates vowed their communities would be “ready” when immigration officers come.
Trump, who has made a hardline immigration stance a key issue of his presidency and his 2020 re-election bid, postponed the operation last month after the planned date was leaked to the press, but on Monday he said the roundups would take place after the July 4 holiday.
“They’ll be starting fairly soon, but I don’t call them raids, we’re removing people, all of these people who have come in over the years illegally,” he told reporters at the White House on Friday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last month said raids would target undocumented migrants who had recently arrived in the United States so as to discourage a surge of Central American families at the southwest border.
ICE said in a statement its focus was arresting people with criminal histories but any immigrant found in violation of U.S. laws was subject to arrest.
Government documents published this week by migrant rights groups showed some past ICE raids had more collateral arrests than apprehensions of targeted migrants. Migrant rights groups say this general, looming threat to undocumented migrants is harmful to communities and the U.S. economy, as it forces adults to miss work and children to skip school out of fear they may be picked up and separated.
“We have to be ready, not just when Trump announces it, because there are arrests every day and they have been increasing,” said Elsa Lopez, an organizer for New Mexico immigrant and workers’ rights group Somos un Pueblo Unido.
Migrant apprehensions on the southwest border hit a 13-year high in May but eased in June as Mexico increased immigration enforcement.
An increasing number of migrants are coming from countries outside Central America, including India, Cuba and Africa. The Del Rio, Texas, border patrol sector on Friday reported the arrest of more than 1,000 Haitians since June 10.
Democratic lawmakers visited an El Paso, Texas, border patrol station on Monday and said migrants were being held in atrocious conditions, with women told to drink out of a toilet.
To “dispel” what he called “the misinformation,” chief border patrol agent Roy Villareal put out a video showing fresh water available from a cooler and a faucet in a cell at a Tucson, Ariz., sector migrant processing centre.
“We’re not forcing aliens to drink out of the toilet,” said Villareal, head of an area that in May apprehended nearly six times fewer people than the El Paso sector, a stretch of border that has borne the brunt of the migrant surge.