Declaring “there has to be consequences” to coming to the U.S. illegally, the nation’s top immigration enforcement official said in an interview Friday that the “rule of law” was at stake and “political will” needed, as his agency planned to arrest more than 2,000 undocumented immigrant family members.
In an interview with ABC News Live, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Mark Morgan said there were no plans to commence deportations in the range of “millions,” as President Donald Trump’s tweet Monday suggested was imminent.
But Morgan tells ABC the “integrity” of the system was in question. The agency planned to target more than 2,040 family members who had already received deportation orders but were still living inside the United States. CNN and The Washington Post reported that the focus of the raids would be in 10 cities and take place Sunday.
“This is not about fear,” Morgan said. “No one is instilling fear in anyone. This is about the rule of law and maintaining the integrity of the system.”
Morgan said the goal was to deter more people from coming illegally to the United States.
“Right now, the greatest pull factors for families to come here is they know that once they arrive in the U.S., they remain here untouched. We have to change that,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Mark Morgan told ABC News Live.
Of the roughly 144,000 migrants stopped by U.S. authorities in May, more than 105,000 came as families. The numbers represent the largest North American land migration trend in more than a decade.
The situation has strained resources along the border and frustrated Trump’s promise to curtail immigrants.
Last month, President Trump changed leadership at the Department of Homeland Security and called for a “tougher” approach. Morgan, who briefly led the Border Patrol in the Obama administration, was tapped by Trump to lead ICE just six weeks ago.
Asked whether the president’s Twitter announcement was “simply a restating of what the [agency] is doing right now” rather than an announcement of a new plan for mass deportations, Morgan said, “that’s correct.”
Last year, ICE deported 226,000 immigrants. Experts say the agency lacks the resources to deport the “millions” Trump said would be removed “as fast as they come in.”
Further complicating those plans are the resource limits set by Congress. The federal agencies that handle immigration have requested additional funds to continue basic functions including the housing of unaccompanied migrant kids.
Morgan later told ABC News that if Congress doesn’t increase funding for immigration management, Homeland Security would start redirecting funds from other federal law enforcement divisions including the TSA.
On a call with reporters earlier this week, Morgan discussed focusing on families that have received deportation orders from court. He suggested that if families don’t voluntarily turn themselves over, ICE would start going into neighborhoods and workplaces more often.
Trump’s tweet has angered and worried law enforcement officials and teachers unions that said the threat of deportations only spreads fear among communities and makes their jobs harder.
Javier Guerra, the chief of police for Sunland Park, New Mexico, said he wants residents to know that his local officers don’t enforce immigration law and that it’s important that they still report crimes and work with police.
“I’m not going to ask about your citizenship,” he told ABC News. “I don’t care if you don’t speak English.”
Schools, too, have said that deportation fears can impact attendance or cooperation with teachers. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Trump was wrongfully blaming immigrant families for the nation’s grievances and called his efforts “craven” and “cruel.”
Morgan dismissed the concerns.
“We’re enforcing the law against all demographics, and we’re trying to send a message to the family units that don’t come here and don’t put your life at rick, your children’s life at risk,” he said.
Morgan blamed Congress for laws that require the agency to release families pending a court hearing and said legislators should allow ICE to detain parents for longer than the court mandated 20 days.
Asked whether he’s confident that the Trump administration will ultimately stem the tide of migrant families crossing the southern U.S. border, Morgan would not say.
“I’m absolutely committed to absolutely understanding that this administration is 100 percent trying to do the right thing for the right reasons,” he said.