Coordinated federal raids targeted migrant parents and their children over the weekend, but only a few cities reported a handful of arrests.
The operation was originally intended as a nationwide show of force, part of President Donald Trump's plan to apprehend thousands of recently arrived migrants who are not eligible to remain in the country. But the plan was changed at the last minute because of news reports that had tipped off migrant communities about what to expect, according to several current and former Department of Homeland Security officials familiar with the matter.
Instead of a large, simultaneous sweep, authorities created a plan for a smaller and more diffuse series of apprehensions to roll out over roughly a week. Individual Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices were given the discretion to decide when to begin, one official said.
The first reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity arrived Friday and Saturday. In Chicago, a mother was apprehended with her daughters, but the family was immediately released under supervision, according to a person familiar with the operation.
In New York City, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents attempted two arrests Saturday in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn, and a third in East Harlem, according to the mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs.
"No arrests were made to our knowledge," the mayor's office said in a statement.
An additional operation was reported in Florida.
Immigration authorities planned to continue making arrests throughout the week in at least 10 cities. They had identified at least 2,000 targets for the raids, but typically, only 20% to 30% of the targets of Immigration and Customs Enforcement are apprehended.
The operation was originally scheduled for late June, but it was postponed after opposition from Democratic lawmakers and migrant advocates. Trump confirmed Friday that it would go ahead over the weekend.
Mark Morgan, the acting director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said on Sunday's Fox & Friends Weekend that the operation was about "the rule of law" and "those individuals who remain here illegally, especially those who've received due process more than any other nation in the world would provide someone that came here illegally, to include those with final [deportation] orders, that there are consequences to those that remain here illegally."
Mexican officials, meanwhile, say they expect 1,807 Mexicans who have been issued final deportation orders in the U.S. will be returned to their country in the coming days.
Officials at the Mexican Foreign Affairs Ministry say there was no indication of an uptick in arrests of Mexicans without visas in major U.S. cities as of mid-Sunday, but that Mexican consulates are ready with legal assistance for additional migrants caught in sweeps.
For its part, Mexico deported 364 Hondurans back to their country on Friday and Saturday alone, part of an effort to reduce arrivals of Central American migrants in the U.S.
The threat of arrests alone was enough to spark concern and upend weekend plans for many migrants, including those who feared that the raids could sweep up far more people than just those who were targeted.
Many were hunkering down indoors or went into hiding as far as possible from the addresses that the federal authorities had on file for them.
Churches in areas that expected Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations responded in a variety of ways.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, wrote a letter to archdiocese priests this month saying, "Threats of broad enforcement actions by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] are meant to terrorize communities." He urged priests in the archdiocese -- which serves more than 2 million Catholics -- not to let any immigration officials into churches without identification or a warrant.
The Rev. Robert Stearns, of Living Water in Houston, organized 25 churches in the city to make space available to any families who wanted to seek sanctuary while they sorted out their legal status. A dozen churches in the Los Angeles areas also declared themselves sanctuaries.
The early-morning crowd for Spanish-language Mass was only slightly smaller than usual at St. Clare de Montefalco in Chicago, where stacks of paper advising migrants of their rights during arrests sat on card tables outside the sanctuary. Multiple attendees, seemingly nervous about the threatened sweeps, declined interviews.
Another Chicago church run by vocal migrant-rights advocates reported a big drop in attendance, however.
At Chicago's Adalberto United Methodist, the Rev. Emma Lozano attributed the large number of no-shows to fear. She said street vendors who sell food outside the church also were absent.
In Los Angeles, the Rev. Fred Morris of the North Hills United Methodist Hispanic Mission said he was relieved to see everyone who usually attends the early Sunday morning service.
"Everybody is nervous," Morris said. "They are angry, very angry at being terrorized by our president."
The operation is one of the first to target not only single adults who are in the country illegally, but also parents and children who are part of the recent wave of migrant families who have arrived from Central America and elsewhere on the southern border.
All of those targeted have been issued orders of deportation, in many cases because they failed to appear in immigration court as directed. Lawyers for some of the migrants say that a large number of recent arrivals were not informed of their court dates and did not know where or when to appear.
John Cohen, the former acting undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security during President Barack Obama's administration, called the raids impractical. Cohen said there were a large number of deportations during the Obama administration but that they mainly involved single adults who had been convicted of crimes.
"During Obama, the overwhelming majority of enforcement actions targeted criminal aliens," Cohen said. "This operation apparently specifically targets families who for the most part present no risk."
Cohen said the raids were not likely to improve the situation at the border, where holding facilities have been packed with migrants.
Trump pushed back Sunday against reports that the holding facilities were keeping migrants in substandard conditions, tweeting that centers for children are fine and that areas for single men "were clean but crowded -- also loaded up with a big percentage of criminals."
"Sorry, can't let them into our Country," Trump tweeted. "If too crowded, tell them not to come to USA, and tell the Dems to fix the Loopholes - Problem Solved!"
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the facilities weren't designed for the "swamping" of migrants and that Congress could address the conditions by providing more funding and changing asylum laws that he said encourage migrants to come to the U.S.
"Congress has let it happen," Cuccinelli said on ABC's This Week.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he expects a vote before lawmakers' August recess on his bill to stem the flow of migrants. He proposes requiring that migrants from Central America apply for asylum in Mexico or their home countries instead of in the U.S. The legislation also would provide more aid to those nations, particularly El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
"This is a sick system," Graham said on Fox News' Sunday Morning Futures. "It is rotten to its core."
But U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a 2020 presidential candidate, said Trump is trying to keep Americans' focus off issues such as improving U.S. infrastructure.
"He wants chaos because it distracts everyone from all of these other things we should be talking about," Klobuchar said on ABC. "He wants us to be talking about this today, and he uses these people as political pawns."
Information for this article was contributed by Caitlin Dickerson of The New York Times; by Sophia Tareen, Adriana Gomez, Colleen Long, Julie Walker, Claire Galofaro and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Mark Niquette and Ben Brody of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 07/15/2019