Immigration officials carried out small-scale raids over the weekend, kicking off what President Trump had promised would be a broad effort to round up people in the country illegally.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents attempted raids in at least two neighborhoods in New York City on Saturday, according to a person familiar with the matter, a day prior to when the president had said the agency would begin national roundups of people illegally in the U.S.
In New York City, ICE agents went to residences in the Harlem section of Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, the person said. The agents were rejected by people at the residences because they didn’t have warrants, according to the person. New York City officials said Sunday there was no indication that they had returned.
A spokeswoman for ICE in New York said that the agency won’t offer specific details related to 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,” the spokeswoman said.
But there was no indication those raids were part of the nationwide roundup Mr. Trump had told reporters would happen beginning Sunday. Mr. Trump had announced a similar raid last month, but it was postponed amid concerns, including over officers’ safety. Some Democratic critics of the president said he was using the threat of raids to help consolidate his political base.
“Here’s the blunt truth: @realDonaldTrump isn’t trying to ‘secure our borders.’ He’s trying to make America HATE again,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio—one of the many Democrats seeking to unseat Mr. Trump—said Sunday morning on Twitter.
As of Sunday afternoon, activist groups were reporting little other enforcement activity beyond Saturday’s New York City raids.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the raids aligned with ICE’s priority to remove criminals from the U.S. “We’ve got compassionate, loyal ICE agents who are just doing their job,” Mr. Cuccinelli said in a Sunday morning interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “It shows you how far we’ve fallen in that it’s become news that they would actually go deport people who have removal orders.”
He declined to confirm that parents wouldn’t be separated from their children during the raids. “That would be an operational detail that I’m not going to comment on,” he said.
Mr. Cuccinelli’s agency isn’t directly connected to law enforcement, but instead is charged with administering the country’s legal immigration system, including issuing work permits to eligible asylum seekers and approving green card applications.
An ICE spokeswoman reiterated that the agency wouldn’t comment on enforcement operations.
After word of the raids leaked last week, President Trump on Friday told reporters before embarking on a fundraising trip to Milwaukee that the roundup would begin on Sunday “and they’re going to take people out, and they’re going to bring them back to their countries.”
Mr. Trump said the raids would focus on criminals, saying agents would “take criminals out, put them in prison, or put in them in prison in the countries they came from.”
ICE agents were put on standby for potential raids this weekend, and while some operations continued in individual cities, agents were never given an order to execute on a nationwide scale, an administration official said.
Other White House officials said that ICE doesn’t have the capacity to house and process large-scale arrestees and suggested there never was a plan for such an operation.
“I take issue with the word ‘raids,’” said Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary and communications director, in a brief interview on Sunday. “These are law enforcement officials carrying out law enforcement operations as they have done in the past and will continue to do.”
Greg Chen, director of government relations at American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that President Trump’s announcement of the raids puts ICE in a difficult position. “He wants to take credit for tough enforcement, but he’s jeopardizing his agency’s own operations by talking about it publicly before the enforcement even happens,” Mr. Chen said.
The raids were set to begin in 10 cities—many which have designated themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants—Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and San Francisco, said officials of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, a Texas-based nonprofit.
Protests were held in many of the cities Friday and Saturday. Immigrant-rights advocates vowed to protect undocumented residents they say are being victimized by the Trump administration for political reasons. Many of the immigrants, they said, fled violence in countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and face possible harm if they are sent back.Officials in some of the cities, including New York, San Francisco and Chicago, offered their help to any immigrant who needs it.
“This craven action may motivate his political base, but it does nothing to make us safer and only leaves migrants at further risk of abuse, disease and death,” Vanita Gupta, chief executive officer of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights coalition, said in a statement.
Many churches also offered support. At the Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana in Oakland, Calif.’s heavily Hispanic Fruitvale neighborhood, Sunday services proceeded as regularly scheduled with a Bible school class singing songs in Spanish. The church, which considers itself a “sanctuary church,” in recent years has received many Central American immigrants as congregants, and the church has a team and programs to address migrants’ housing and other needs.
“It’s impossible to put yourself in the shoes of somebody unless you’re in the same situation or same condition,” said Rev. Pablo Morataya during his sermon Sunday. “I have heard in the last two days of at least three cases of people who, from my point of view, have all the reason in the world to be full of panic.”
—Sarah Chaney, Alicia Caldwell and Mike Bender contributed to this article.
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