President Donald Trump’s top immigration enforcement official on Tuesday blasted a reporter for referring to possible arrests of migrant families as “raids.”
Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence slammed the terminology during a call with reporters that focused on an ongoing operation targeting families who have been ordered deported.
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During a question-and-answer session, CNN reporter Priscilla Alvarez asked Albence if there would be “routine raids” to pick up family members.
“Calling these raids does a disservice to everybody that’s involved in this process,” Albence told. “A raid brings up all sorts of emotions that conjures images of indiscriminate enforcement actions. That is not what we do … I guarantee you that if we were out there doing raids and we had officers running all over the place picking up targets indiscriminately, you would have videos all over YouTube.”
He insisted the arrests should be called “targeted enforcement actions,” a standard phrase used by ICE officials.
“I would like to have an honest, factual dialogue and answer your questions, but we need to be singing from the same sheet of music if we’re going to do that,” he said. “So I would appreciate if nobody else uses the term raids at any point during this thing.”
The testy response came as ICE released figures related to ongoing actions targeting recently arrived migrant families in 10 major cities, over an undisclosed time frame. Albence said the agency had arrested just 35 people during the first phase of Operation Border Resolve, an effort that focuses on recently arrived families who were placed on an accelerated court docket and were ordered removed.
Just 17 of the 35 people arrested were family members, with the rest encountered during the operations, Albence said. The acting ICE director told reporters he was not aware of any families separated in the recent actions.
Albence said the agency identified roughly 2,100 family members who could be targeted as part of the rolling family arrests. He declined to provide the time frame or location for the 35 arrests.
“This is just the beginning of the operation,” he said. “When you have somebody that comes in here illegally and has no ties to anyone in the country and can give any address they want, that makes it very difficult for us to be able to try to locate those individuals.”
Trump tweeted in June that immigration authorities would begin removing “millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” a hyperbolic statement that appeared to reference a long-planned action against families.
ICE typically keeps details about coming raids secret to protect the security of officers and prevent immigrants from taking steps to evade detection.
Amid a flurry of media coverage about the planned arrests, Trump reversed course on June 22 and said that enforcement actions would be postponed for two weeks, citing ongoing talks over asylum reforms in Congress.
However, lawmakers were heading out of town for one of those two weeks. The House passed a Senate-approved border funding measure June 27, but lawmakers made no apparent progress on asylum legislation.
Trump said on July 12 that the postponed raids would begin the following weekend and target anyone who entered the country illegally, as well as criminal offenders. Days later, he called the actions “very successful,” even though little evidence of arrests emerged in media reports.
Albence said Tuesday that some recent enforcement operations had been halted because of fear that ICE officers were being followed, but did not offer specific details.
“We had instances where we had officers that believed they were being surveilled by individuals and there was concern that they would somehow try to interfere with our ability to make these arrests,“ he said. “For officer safety reasons, we discontinued the enforcement operation at that time.”
On the call with reporters, Albence also addressed a new Homeland Security Department move to greatly expand the pool of undocumented immigrants who can be deported without a court hearing.
DHS published a notice in the Federal Register Tuesday that applies “expedited removal” to migrants who entered the country illegally and cannot prove continuous presence in the U.S. of at least two years, up from a previous 14-day cutoff. The new policy will be applied nationwide, as opposed to an earlier version that only affected people caught within 100 miles of a U.S. border.
Albence said the agency was “in the process of developing implementation guidance.”
ICE issued 3,282 worksite inspection notices to employers from July 15 to July 19, according to the agency. Albence said the notices were part of an effort “to instill a culture of compliance” within U.S. businesses.