WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US authorities launched small-scale operations seeking to arrest undocumented immigrants over the weekend in an apparent start to President Donald Trump’s vow to launch mass deportation round-ups across the United States.
The operation, which Trump revealed on Twitter last month, then postponed before telling reporters on Friday that it would proceed, was expected to target hundreds of recently arrived families in about 10 cities who had been ordered deported by an immigration judge.
The removal operations are meant to deter a surge in Central American families fleeing poverty and gang violence in their home countries, with many seeking asylum in the United States.
Immigrants and their advocates were bracing for mass arrests, but by Sunday night there were only reports of low-profile operations in a few cities.
Mary Bauer at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said there were no confirmed operations in large Southern cities such as Atlanta.
There also were no reports of arrests from the American Immigration Council, which has lawyers on standby to give legal advice at the country’s largest family migrant detention centre in Dilley, Texas.
“Immigrants and immigrant communities all over the country are in hiding and people are living in these terrified, terrorized ways, because that is the point of this whole action, whether enforcement actions take place or not,” said Bauer, the SPLC’s deputy legal director.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said there were three ICE operations in his city on Saturday, with no reported arrests. He said there was no ICE activity in New York on Sunday.
“This is a political act by this president, he’s politicized a United States government agency to help him win re-election,” said de Blasio, a Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential race.
In Denver, the Colorado Rapid Response Network of immigration activists said there were unconfirmed reports of ICE or police detaining three people on Sunday in the Potter Highlands area.
The Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition said immigrants were sheltering at home after ICE agents were seen near the city’s international airport. No arrests were reported.
“They’ve been stocking up on groceries and making plans to stay in their homes with the lights off and the blinds down,” the group posted on Facebook. “Some are staying home from work.”