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ICE Plans To Arrest And Deport Thousands Of Migrant Families


Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, plans to arrest and deport thousands of migrant families beginning as early as this Sunday. These families have been ordered removed by a judge. But historically, ICE has not made it a priority to go after entire families. Mark Morgan is the acting director of ICE. He says the agency has no choice but to enforce the law. He said that to NPR's John Burnett, who sat down with Morgan today and who is sitting here in the studio with me now. Hey, John.


KELLY: What do we know about this operation that ICE is about to launch across the country starting Sunday?

BURNETT: We know the Justice Department has fast-tracked the asylum cases of thousands of recently arrived immigrants, mostly from Central America. And they're in 10 major U.S. cities. They include New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and San Francisco. And we believe that these are the areas where ICE agents will be targeting families in the coming days.

I spoke with acting ICE Director Mark Morgan this afternoon at a conference table in his office at ICE headquarters. It's got a commanding view of the Washington Monument and the Potomac. And he was saying he wishes his agents didn't have to go out and knock on doors to arrest immigrants because it's labor intensive, and it's dangerous for the agents. But he doesn't expect them to turn themselves in.

MARK MORGAN: The history has shown they do not. So what are our options? They've had due process. They've had access to attorneys. They've had access to interpreters. The majority of them don't even show up. We have no choice. It's about the rule of law. If those who have gone through the process and received final orders, if we don't enforce that, then that whole process is meaningless.

KELLY: John, for those of us who have not covered ICE raids for many years, as you have, what is different about how these appear to be taking form?

BURNETT: It's pretty dramatic, Mary Louise. Up to now, ICE agents have prioritized unauthorized immigrants - single adults who have criminal charges, whether they're serious or minor. Now they're going to round up recent arrivals. And today, the great majority of them are mothers and fathers with their children who've committed no crime other than illegal entry.

KELLY: But I can't help but think of the blistering criticism that the administration came under last year when it was targeting families and separating parents and children at the border. Are they taking steps to avoid the appearance that they're mistreating parents and children again?

BURNETT: That's really the question that some people in the administration are asking now. I mean, rounding up families can be messy. What if agents show up at the apartment, and only the mom is there? Her daughter is at the bodega or at church camp or off with her cousins. And so these beefy-armed agents come back and arrest the daughter separately? Here's Morgan again.

MORGAN: My duty is not to look at the political optics or the will of the American people. That's for the politicians to decide. What the American people should want us to do as law enforcement officials is to enforce the rule of law and maintain the integrity of that system. If you're here in violation of federal immigration law, if you've had due process and you have a final order, what are we supposed to do?

KELLY: I have another question, which I'm hoping you put to Morgan, John, which is if this roundup of families goes ahead, where will they all stay? Where will they be detained? Because I thought one of the problems was they were out of detention beds.

BURNETT: I asked the director that, Mary Louise, and he basically said this is our job, and we'll find places for them. The truth is, they're not likely to get more congressional money for detention beds. These families are likely to be deported quickly. In terms of long-term detention, I asked him about ICE being in hot water with the inspector general of Homeland Security. A recent report chided ICE for systemic problems at its contract immigrant detention centers. It described egregious violations, such as overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care, food safety issues, dilapidated and moldy housing units. Morgan insists ICE is addressing those deficiencies and doing better. I pressed him on it.

MORGAN: I just dismiss that outright, that ICE doesn't care. That's absolutely false.

BURNETT: Well, then why do these abuses continue year after year after year?

MORGAN: So I take exception with your use of the word abuse. It's not abuse. No system is perfect, but I think what you do, you encourage oversight, and then you do your best to continue to get better.

KELLY: Mark Morgan, the acting director of ICE talking there with our John Burnett. John Burnett, nice to see you, and thank you.

BURNETT: It's great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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