Immigrant advocates are pressing the Trump administration for information after sweeping deportation raids were postponed ahead of Hurricane Irma.
Fifty organizations are filing Freedom of Information Act requests with Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices around the country. The initiative is designed to press ICE for details on the removal process, with a focus on how the agency skirts oversight.
“We’re ready to go forward and litigate, if necessary,” Mijente Field Director Jacinta Gonzalez said Tuesday, in a conference call. Seeking information from ICE is “always an uphill battle,” she added.
Mary Small, the policy director for Detention Watch Network, said that ICE may have deliberately planned the raids in September because the fiscal year starts in October, and they want to boost funding from Congress. Detainees and deportees are “bureaucratic numbers with dollar signs attached,” she said.
Last Thursday—amid the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and ahead of Hurricane Irma’s landfall–NBC reported an impending set of ICE raids designed to net thousands of people, dubbed “Operation Mega.”
The agency subsequently announced it would suspend “coordinated nationwide operation planned at this time,” in light of the damage in Texas and ongoing emergency preparations in Florida.
Danny Cendejas, Detention Watch Network’s field organizer, said Tuesday that they expected Operation Mega to net between 6,000-10,000 people.
Information about plans has been leaking to activists from sources within the agency, participants on the conference call said. They expected the Trump administration to employ sweeping tactics in Mega, and in whatever initiative comes next, warning of “a broad massive sweep of an entire community.”
Not long after President Trump’s inauguration, the White House issued an executive order calling for the hiring of 15,000 additional border security agents—something that could take up to two years to do. By February, a division of ICE that had previously focused on organized crime started making “collateral” immigration arrests, hauling off all kinds of people who lacked documentation.
There has been a 40 percent increase in ICE street arrests and a 78 percent increase in agency detainer requests under the Trump administration, Gonzalez said on Tuesday’s call.
News about Operation Mega came just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the imminent end of DACA—an Obama-era program that temporarily granted protection from deportation to 800,000 teenagers and young adults.
Democrats who strongly supported the program are pushing for Congress to grant status to those affected. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) has raised the prospect of shutting down the government this December, after the expiration of the three-month budget deal hammered out last week by Trump and Congressional Democrats.
“If there is no pathway forward [for DACA recipients]…then there is no government for anyone,” Gutierrez said on Friday.