- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2019

It’s not the “millions” President Trump promised, but ICE’s chief said Wednesday that his agency will put a renewed effort into trying to find and deport immigrant families living in the U.S. illegally who’ve already had their day in court and have been ordered removed but are defying those orders.

Mark Morgan, acting director at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said he’ll shift some resources to put more muscle into interior enforcement, hoping to “send a message” to immigrants that showing up at the border as a family is no longer a free ticket in to the U.S.

Mr. Morgan wouldn’t talk numbers on who might be targeted, but he pointed to a pilot program that in recent months sped up court proceedings for newly arriving families and resulted in court-ordered deportations in most cases — only to see those rulings ignored by immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

He said ICE even contacted 2,000 of the families, offering a chance to arrange their deportations in an orderly fashion. He said they “refused to comply.”

“I don’t want to send ICE agents to their workplace. I don’t want to send ICE agents to their home,” he said. “But we have applied due process. We have tried to work with them … but they have refused to do so, so we have no choice.”

He said ICE’s priority for deportation will continue to be criminal migrants, but he said the agency cannot ignore other people who’ve broken the law by being here illegally and who have been ordered removed.

That was alarming news for Democrats and immigrant-rights activists who during the Obama administration had managed to carve most immigrants living in the U.S. illegally out of any danger of deportation.

Now, they say Mr. Trump is pushing “mass deportations” with an eye to the 2020 election.

Mr. Trump has confused the situation with his tweets, including one Monday where he said “millions of illegal aliens” would soon face deportation.

“They will be removed as fast as they come in,” he vowed.

Asked Tuesday what he meant, he refused to expand, instead saying Homeland Security officials “know” what he had in mind, and that the whole country would eventually learn.

It’s not clear if Mr. Morgan’s announcement was meant to confirm the Mr. Trump’s promise — but ICE is likely to struggle to meet the numbers the president teased.

Even at its peak of deportations a decade ago, ICE never removed more than 250,000 people in a single year. And those removals, which included criminals, came at a time when sanctuary cities were less prominent and local communities were far more likely to cooperate with ICE.

Now, the agency faces stiff resistance from local authorities and many more hindrances in its efforts to track migrants down in the community.

Activist groups said Mr. Trump and ICE were inviting another public relations disaster on par with last year’s zero-tolerance border policy, which jailed new border crossing adults — and, in cases where they came with children, separated those children from their parents.

“Now, with their new lieutenants in place, it’s clear the new Trump team is full speed ahead and wants to deliver visceral images of raids separating families,” said Pili Tobar, deputy director of America’s Voice.

Mr. Morgan promised “compassion” for the migrants targeted, but said the law must be applied in situations where someone has been ordered deported and has exhausted appeals — even if those situations involve a family.

“We should not exempt a certain demographic from the rule of law,” he said.

“If you’re here illegally, there should be consequences applied.”

He said that since December, ICE has released 207,000 family members into communities. The Border Patrol, which began doing direct release in March, has likely released more than that total itself, he said.

Almost all of them are still here, and without changes or action are likely to be here for years to come, he said.

He pointed to 2017, when about 75,000 family members were snared at the border. Of those who were released into the U.S., 95% remain two years later, he said.

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