CHICAGO — A nationwide immigration enforcement operation targeting people who are in the United States illegally is expected to begin this weekend after it was postponed last month by President Donald Trump, according to two administration officials and immigrant activists.
The operation, which has sparked outrage and concern among immigrant-rights advocates, would target people with final deportation orders, including families whose immigration cases were fast-tracked by judges in 10 major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.
The sweep remains in flux and could begin later, according to the administration officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Still, the American Civil Liberties Union pre-emptively filed a lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to protect asylum seekers.
Large Region cities with a high Hispanic population such as East Chicago and Gary have not been notified by federal agencies in regards to the potential operation, officials said.
While major cities are said to be the targets, it doesn't guarantee ICE will not conduct its enforcement operations in places like Northwest Indiana.
“My understanding is that the focus is on larger cities — not to say there aren't any possibilities of enforcement actions in Gary or Northwest Indiana,” Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said. “We have seen families separated in Northwest Indiana, which causes reason for concern and underscores the need to have a long term fix on immigration law and speaks to the need for reform. Children and parents are dying at the border. It's shameful for a nation that is the richest in the world to not have the political will power to fix this.”
Steve Segura, director of the East Chicago Multimedia Division, said if the city received official word of ICE operations in the area he would likely announce it on the city Facebook page, however they have received no such notices.
Alfredo Estrada, an attorney at Burke Costanza & Carberry LLP who works heavily with immigration law, said organizations and activist groups are currently developing strategies to assist individuals who could be targeted by the rumored ICE operation.
“What you'll see right now is community activists, churches and those involved in immigration rights working to assist immigrants on how to act if widespread raids were conducted,” Estrada said.
He said the American Immigration Lawyers Association has put together a rapid response team in which Estrada is serving as a co-coordinator for the Indiana chapter. Those in the Indiana chapter received an email last week asking for volunteers to prepare for the potential enforcement operation, he said.
Circulating information is a large part of these efforts, such as disseminating information outlining individuals' rights in the event of an ICE raid, Estrada said. Another resource is the online detainee locator system at locator.ice.gov, which can help families find relatives who have been detained.
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.
The operation is said to be similar to ones conducted regularly since 2003 that often produce hundreds of arrests. It is slightly unusual to target families, as opposed to immigrants with criminal histories, but it's not unprecedented. The Obama and Trump administrations have targeted families in previous operations.
But this latest effort is notable because of the politics swirling around it.
Trump announced on Twitter last month that the sweep would mark the beginning of a push to deport millions of people who are in the country illegally, a near-impossibility given the limited resources of ICE, which makes the arrests and carries out deportation orders.
Then he abruptly canceled the operation after a phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, while lawmakers worked to pass a $4.6 billion border aid package. Plus, details had leaked, and authorities worried about the safety of ICE officers.
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.
While discussions abound and activists prepare, whether or not the operation will start this weekend continues to be murky.
“Generally, ICE conducts raids without notifying anyone, unless additional resources are needed from municipal police agencies,” Estrada said. “An announcement would be out of the norm.”
Whether or not local police agencies have to fulfill ICE's request for resources has been a topic of debate, Estrada said.
“That's currently being litigated in federal and state courts,” Estrada said. “The 11th Amendment says federal agencies cannot commandeer state or municipal resources. We are still waiting to see where the courts land on this issue.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been vocal in her opposition of the ICE raids in her orders to local authorities to not cooperate with federal immigration agents and to restrict ICE access to Chicago Police Department databases permanently.
Estrada said East Chicago and Gary adopted “welcoming city” ordinances in recent years. In the case of Gary's ordinance, it prohibits requesting or investigating the legal status of an individual unless required by court order and also states immigration enforcement actions are a federal responsibility.
In addition, the ordinance says city resources shall not be commandeered to enforce federal law. A welcoming city ordinance has also been considered by officials in Lake Station and Hammond.
“I think that we will never interfere with federal law, but we do want residents to know their rights,” Freeman-Wilson said.
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.
The American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, argued that thousands of migrants fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, were not allowed a fair chance to request asylum due but were still ordered removed from the country. They are asking that those individuals get another hearing.
Others said they were skeptical that Trump would follow through on the threat.
Activists are also planning local rallies against the raids.
At 7 p.m. Friday, people will gather for the Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps, a nationwide event. The rally will be at the Veterans Memorial's eternal flame torch at Wicker Memorial Park, 8554 Indianapolis Blvd., in Highland.
Scott Houldieson, chapter leader for Progressive Democrats of America Calumet Region, said the rally is especially relevant in Northwest Indiana.
“Northwest Indiana has been built by immigrants,” Houldieson said. “The steel industry here has relied heavily on immigrants to build it up to what it is today. It's important to recognize that.”
Houldieson said he suspects ICE's enforcement efforts could spill into the Region.
“A lot of things do bleed over from Chicago,” Houldieson said. “I believe the Chicago ICE headquarters also has jurisdiction in Northwest Indiana.”
Donations such as backpacks and hygiene items will be collected at the vigil for the Chicago Immigrant Transit Assistance, an organization working directly with immigrant families that have been released from detention centers across the U.S. and are traveling through the Chicago Greyhound station. The potential enforcement operation will likely come up in discussion at the vigil, and pamphlets outlining individuals' rights will be passed out at the event, Houldieson said.
“We are doing our best to let folks know they're not alone and not everyone in the U.S. Is against them,” Houldieson said.
Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.