Top immigration official says ICE raids not designed to separate families

Acting CBP head: ICE raids "maintain integrity in the system"

President Trump's top official at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tried to quell fears by immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers that the expected roundups of undocumented families in major cities across the country will separate parents from their children, saying the objective of the operation is not family separation. 

"The design is not about family separation. That's not the intent. It never has been. It never will be," Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said on "Face the Nation" Sunday. 

"The men and women of ICE, they are, too, American heroes," he added, referring to employees of his former agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "They're mothers, they are fathers, brothers and sisters. They're going to apply this with humanity and compassion." 

For example, the CBP chief said that if an undocumented woman is in her third trimester of pregnancy, ICE agents would not apprehend her. "They're going to give her a paper — a notice to appear — and come back later when it's appropriate," Morgan said.

Nevertheless, Morgan, who was tapped to head the border enforcement agency after leading ICE for a few weeks this year, said "challenges" exist to avoid family separations during immigration sweeps in the interior of the country — which ICE, his former agency, is responsible for.  

The expected ICE raids — which Mr. Trump first telegraphed last month only to postpone them — have left undocumented immigrants across the nation on edge, as they fear will be deported and separated from their families. The agency which Morgan once led is set to target about 2,000 undocumented families in an expedited docket in the immigration court system. 

According to ICE, these immigrants were ordered deported by a judge for failing to appear in court and also received notification from the agency to arrange their deportation.

Asked about accusations from Democrats and advocates that Mr. Trump has pushed for this immigration crackdown to galvanize his ardent supporters for his reelection bid, Morgan said he couldn't talk about the "political side" of the operation and pivoted to a common talking point administration officials and Republicans often employ to decry illegal immigration by families. 

"One of the largest incentives, pull factors, for these people is you grab a kid, that is your passport into the country. And once you get in the country, you're allowed to stay," he added. "If we don't apply interior enforcement action, consequences, to those that have received due process."

Morgan also defended the expected ICE roundups by claiming that people with removal orders who will be targeted already enjoyed "due process" in the immigration court stem. "Part of that priority is to also go after and apply consequences and enforce the rule of law to those individuals who had due process and received a final order of removal from a judge, and they still remain here illegally. To maintain integrity in the system, we have to apply consequences to everyone," he said.

The claim, which has been made by other administration officials, has been strongly disputed by advocates and immigration attorneys. They say many people did not receive a notice to appear in court because these are often sent to the wrong addresses, with erroneous dates or different locations and other bureaucratic errors.