The planned raids targeting undocumented immigrants in U.S. cities on Sunday will needlessly put American-born children at risk, according to the former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
John Sandweg, who served as ICE’s acting director under the Obama administration, says the plan to round up thousands of people living in the United States illegally is rife with “vulnerabilities and sensitivities.”
“In the United States, four million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants are from mixed families, meaning you have typically U.S. citizen children and undocumented parents,” he told Global News on Thursday.
“They might go after an undocumented parent who has young U.S. citizen children and then you cannot deport the child and you’re going to result in another family separate-type situation.”
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As reported by the New York Times, ICE agents will target at least 2,000 immigrants who have been ordered deported but have stayed in the country. U.S. officials, who spoke to the Times and the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the raids will be conducted in 10 cities and stretch across several days.
Officials said “collateral deportations” — where immigrants not targeted in the raids get swept up for being at the scene — are likely.
Sandweg said the plan, as it stands now, comes with “significant risks.”
ICE resources at maximum
On one hand, Sandweg says ICE is already at capacity.
He said the department already has limited resources, with agents are tending to the situation at the U.S. border and prison matters, and that diverting resources could cause unintentional strain.
“In order to do an operation like this you’re diverting resources,” he said.
“You have to look at it from a priority perspective. Do we get a bigger bang for our buck from a public safety perspective, in terms of focusing on 18-year-old kids who might have come here when they were 16, but never committed a crime? Or do we get a bigger bang for our buck focusing on someone who might have committed a felony and is coming out of jail?”
Sandweg doesn’t think the plan is the best use of resources, but said the goal seems to be more about deterrence.
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“I think they think by sending a little bit more of these individuals who’ve come from Central America home, perhaps they can slow down the flow,” he said.
However, he said the raids could be seen as successful from an ICE standpoint if it’s done with “very careful targeting.” He used families who can be deported as a unit as an example of specific targeting.
Families at risk in round up
Previously, ICE said the raids would focus on arresting people with criminal histories, but later said any immigrant found living illegally was also subject to arrest.
“Unfortunately, everything I’m reading and hearing here, it sounds like this is going to be a very widespread targeting, designed to get as many people as possible without all those safeguards in place,” he said.
The possibility of separating American kids from undocumented parents drew concern from Kevin K. McAleenan, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting secretary, back in June.
When Trump announced the raids last month, McAleenan asked then-ICE director Mark Morgan to call off the operation, citing the risk of breaking up families with U.S. citizen children.
Days before the raids were set to begin, McAleenan reiterated the risks of the plan to White House officials. He said housing those targeted in the raids until they can be deported would be a challenge.
Sandweg shares the same concerns about housing, especially of young children and families.
“There will be children involved. You’re going to have to detain some of these children,” he said.
“What worries me,” Sandweg added, “is we don’t have an adequate capacity in family detention centres to detain these children in a way that is at least safer than a traditional jail.”
Democratic representatives who visited a border patrol station in El Paso, Texas earlier this weekend described “horrifying” conditions where migrants were being held.
While U.S. officials told the times that they would attempt to keep families detained together, some might end up in hotels until documents can be prepared to deport them.
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U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted about ICE’s plans to conduct the raids in June. He moved to delay the operation after the date for the raids was leaked, adding on Twitter that Congress needed time to “work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border.”
Trump’s hard stance on the subject is being considered a key issue in his 2020 re-election bid.
— With files from Global News reporter Jackson Proskow, the Associated Press and Reuters