“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,” he wrote. “If not, Deportations start!”
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was expected to send agents into communities across America Sunday morning, to begin a co-ordinated operation to deport undocumented immigrant family members, U.S. media reported.
According to The New York Times, the effort planned to focus on more than 2,000 undocumented family members who entered the United States in recent years and had their cases expedited on a specialized docket, and were served deportation orders.
WATCH: Trump says immigration raids are ‘going by the law’
The New York Times reported the raids were expected to occur in at least 10 large U.S. cities including Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans.
A homeland security official told The New York Times that ICE branches in additional cities were also told to prepare to conduct deportations.
On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, saying ICE would begin deporting “millions” of immigrants who are living in the U.S.
“They will be removed as fast as they come in,” Trump wrote.
In an interview with ABC News on Friday, Acting Director of ICE, Mark Morgan, said there were no plans to conduct deportations in the range of “millions,” but said it was about maintaining the “integrity of the system.”
“This is not about fear,” Morgan told ABC. “No one is instilling fear in anyone, this is about the rule of law and maintaining the integrity of the system.”
Morgan added that families needed to be convinced to stop trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
“Right now, the greatest pull factors for families to come here is they know that once they arrive in the U.S., they remain here untouched,” Morgan said. “We have to change that.”
WATCH: Trump tells Mexico to stop ‘invasion’ of migrants, threatens more tariffs
Saturday morning, Trump tweeted again, saying ICE would apprehend those who “have already been ordered to be deported.”
“This means that they have run from the law and run from the courts,” he tweeted. “These are people that are supposed to go back to their home country. They broke the law by coming into the country, & now by staying.”
“When people come into our Country illegally, they will be DEPORTED!” he wrote.
A senior administration official told CNN the operation had been planned for some time, but that Trump’s tweet accelerated the process.
“Certainly, the president’s tweet helped prioritize things for people,” the official told CNN. “There has been an effort to communicate what is likely to happen, without saying specifically when and where.”
John Sandweg, former acting director of ICE under Barack Obama, told ABC News that leaking details of the operations in advance would put agency personnel at risk.
“They are jeopardizing the mission,” he said.
On Friday, ICE issued a statement, saying it would not offer specific details regarding the operation.
“Due to law-enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, the agency will not offer specific details related to ongoing enforcement operations before the conclusion of those actions,” the statement reads.
WATCH: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls migrant detention centres ‘concentration camps’
The news of the operation was met with considerable backlash.
Former Homeland Security official John Cohen called the operation “mind-boggling.”
“This is the largest enforcement operation targeting families I’ve ever heard of,” Cohen told ABC News.
“There are significant threats facing the U.S. from Iran, foreign terrorist groups, domestic extremist organizations, violent gangs and drug traffickers,” he said. “Those threats should be a priority — not rounding up families.”
Several mayors from across the U.S. have also publicly denounced the ICE operation.
“We are all aware of the threat from President Trump regarding raids by ICE, and in response, Chicago has taken concrete steps to support our immigrant communities,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement posted to Twitter on Friday.
Lightfoot said she had directed the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to terminate ICE’s access to the force’s databases related to federal immigration enforcement activities.
According to Lightfoot, the CPD will not co-operate with or facilitate any ICE enforcement actions.
“Chicago will always be a welcoming city and a champion for the rights of our immigrant and refugee communities,” Lightfoot wrote.
Similarly, Baltimore’s Mayor Bernard C. Jack Young, issued a statement Friday, saying he was “deeply disturbed” by Trump’s comments regarding immigration.
“I am proud that Baltimore is committed to upholding the American values of respecting the rights and dignity of every resident,” he wrote. “Regardless of the position of the federal government, we will continue to stand by our decision to be an inclusive, fair and welcoming city.”
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser also issued a statement via Twitter on Friday, calling the raids “cruel.”
“Regardless of immigration status, immigrants in DC are our neighbors, coworkers, family members and valued members of our community,” she wrote. “The President should understand that not only are these threats cruel and antithetical to our American values, they are actually making our communities less safe by sending more residents into hiding, cut off from resources, support, and opportunity.”
She continued, saying Washington DC is a “proud sanctuary city” that remains committed to protecting the rights of immigrant families in the face of what she called “disturbing threats.”
San Francisco Mayor, London Breed called the raids “unconscionable” in a tweet on Friday.
“Here in SF, we will always demonstrate our values of diversity and inclusiveness by being a sanctuary city that stands up for all our residents,” she wrote.
Speaking to reporters Saturday morning, Trump had defended the decision, saying they are “going by the law.”
“A group of very, very good law enforcement people going by the law, going by the rules, going by our court system and taking people out of our country who came into our country illegally. They came into our country illegally, and we’re taking them out legally,” he said. “We’re bringing them back to their country.”
The news comes a month after the U.S. saw an influx of migrants at its southern border.
According to numbers released earlier this month, the U.S. Border Patrol’s apprehension of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border hit the highest level in more than a decade.
Agents made 132,887 apprehensions in May, the first time that apprehensions have topped 100,000 since April 2007.
It set a record with 84,542 adults and children apprehended.
Another 11,507 were children travelling alone, and 36,838 were single adults.
WATCH: Mexico to curtail U.S.-bound migrants with re-evaluation after 45 days
Data provided by the Pew Center shows that there were 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants in America in 2017, down from 10.7 million in 2016.
The data also showed more than half of the population of unauthorized immigrants, 56 per cent, is concentrated in Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Florida.
— With files from Jesse Ferreras, The Associated Press