In a surprise move, President Donald Trump said he would push back by a couple of weeks the raids planned for Sunday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border,” President Trump wrote in a tweet Saturday afternoon from the presidential retreat in Camp David in Maryland.
The reports that ICE planned to conduct large-scale enforcement actions sparked an outcry from Democratic leaders in many major cities, who condemned the plan and initiated efforts to help affected residents.
Just hours earlier Saturday, as he departed the White House, Trump said migrants who were to be targeted in a nationwide roundup should return to their native countries.
ICE Acting Director Mark Morgan told reporters days earlier the agency would round up and deport families who have received a removal order from a U.S. immigration court.
The operation, first reported by The Washington Post, had been expected to begin on Sunday, targeting up to 2,000 families in large cities that are major immigration destinations, including Houston, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.
Trump tweeted Saturday morning that ICE agents will pursue those who "have run from the law and run from the courts."
He added, "These are people that are supposed to go back to their home country. They broke the law by coming into the country, & now by staying."
The Miami Herald reports the other cities to be targeted are Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, New York and San Francisco.
On Monday, Trump had tweeted the U.S. would start deporting "millions of illegal aliens" from the country next week, but the announcement appeared to catch the country's immigration officials by surprise.
Administration officials said the deportation plans have been under consideration for months, but immigration officials said earlier this week that raids on migrant families were not imminent.
The Post said discussions about the scope of the operation continued Friday at the White House, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan has warned that an operation to arrest migrants in their homes and at work sites risks separating children from their parents.
Acting ICE director Morgan told reporters this week the operation is necessary for the integrity of the immigration system.
He said families cannot be exempted from immigration law and said the law "must be applied fairly and equally." He urged families with deportation orders to turn themselves in to immigration officials.
The Post said ICE is planning to "use hotel rooms as temporary staging areas to detain parents and children until all the members of a family are together and ready for deportation."
The mayors of Los Angeles and Chicago say city police would not participate in the raids.
In a statement Friday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she has directed the Chicago Police Department to prevent ICE access to its databases related to federal immigration enforcement activities.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that L.A. law enforcement officers “will never participate'' in such raids.
Trump administration officials say the 1 million migrants who have been issued final deportation orders but are still living in the U.S. would be targeted first in the operation. However, the most the U.S. has ever deported in a single year was in 2013, when about 435,000 were sent home.
It is unusual for public officials to disclose law enforcement raids in advance, for fear of alerting the targets of the raids, and possibly endangering police and other law enforcement personnel.
Immigration activists say the president is using the operation for political purposes and warn it is causing fear in the immigrant community, leading migrants to miss work and school.
Democratic House members and co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, said in a statement Friday, "President Trump's threat of sweeping raids against undocumented immigrants is designed to stoke fear and force families deeper into the shadows."
Administration officials say such operations can have a deterrent effect on other migrants considering crossing into the United States illegally.