WASHINGTON — President Trump said nationwide raids to arrest and deport undocumented migrants would begin on Sunday in a sweep that immigration officials said could roll out over days, echoing a similar threat last month that was never carried out.
“Nothing to be secret about,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday morning, where he was asked about the plans. He called it “a major operation.”
“It starts on Sunday, and they’re going to take people out and they’re going to bring them back to their countries,” the president said. “Or they’re going to take criminals out, put them in prison, or put them in prison in the countries they came from.”
The raids have been planned and debated in the Department of Homeland Security for about a month. Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement initially planned to send agents into communities across the United States on the same day as a coordinated show of force.
But two people familiar with the operation said the agency changed gears after news reports tipped off immigrant communities about the raids.
Raids may begin in some cities on Sunday, but local ICE branches could start them either sooner or later over the next few days, officials said.
Many immigrants are likely to file legal appeals, slowing their deportations. And space limitations in family detention centers will prevent ICE from quickly deporting the migrants.
In June, the president tweeted about the operation days before it was scheduled to begin, blindsiding ICE officials and prompting concern over the safety of agents. Asked about the safety of agents on Friday, Mr. Trump called them “great professionals.”
“These are people that have done this for a long time,” he said.
The planned sweep is expected to take place in nearly a dozen cities. It had been scheduled for late June, but after harsh opposition from Democratic lawmakers, immigrant advocates and homeland security officials, the president postponed it days before it was set to take place.
The planned arrests are a departure for ICE agents, who typically focus on deporting individual adults, particularly those with criminal records, rather than targeting families with children. Federal immigration authorities said they hoped to sweep up at least 2,000 undocumented migrants across the country.
Raids targeting migrant families have happened before, and have been known to escalate into emotional scenes. But officials at the Department of Homeland Security who have discussed the operations with reporters in recent weeks said that they were intended to deter migration, with the hope that images of children and parents being hauled out of their homes would discourage others from entering the United States.
Democratic-led state and local governments have already been mobilizing in opposition of the raids. On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago announced that she had permanently banned ICE from gaining access to the city police department’s digital records, and said the Chicago police would not in any way assist with the immigration sweep.
“The threat of raids has forced our residents to hide in the shadows, living in constant fear and not going to school or word,” she said at a news conference. “I’ve personally spoken with ICE leadership in Chicago and voiced my strong objection to any raids and the things that are happening that are terrorizing and traumatizing our community.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California posted a video on Thursday on Twitter advising migrants living in California on how to avoid arrest.
“We have your back,” he said in the video. “I just want to say to folks who are anxious about a knock on the door, no abras la puerta. You don’t have to open the door. Without a warrant, you don’t have to open the door.”
Four nonprofit groups represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in New York seeking a court order blocking the operation. In the lawsuit, the lawyers claim that many of the migrants failed to appear for their scheduled appearances in immigration court because border agency officials failed to inform them of their court dates.
The Trump administration has argued that the raids are imperative to controlling a humanitarian crisis on the southwestern border.
In recent weeks, the flow of migrants has shown some sign of slowing, with a 28 percent drop in apprehensions recorded in June.