Trump temporarily delays deportation plan amid fears among migrants in the U.S. illegally

Migrants in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody in El Paso.
(Paul Ratje / AFP-Getty Images)

President Trump’s warning Monday night that he would start deporting “millions” of migrants was suddenly put on hold Saturday, according to a tweet he sent this afternoon.

“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. If not, Deportations start!” the tweet said.

But Trump’s sudden reversal provided little relief to those worried about their future. The anticipation of sweeping immigration enforcement, which was planned for Sunday, stirred strong emotions for many around the country.


When Trump first announced news of the deportations earlier this week, Robin Hvidston and Maribel Cisneros weren’t sure how seriously to take him.

The women, who don’t know each other, are aware that Trump is “prone to exaggeration,” as Hvidston puts it. Both said they believe that his pronouncement was a political maneuver to gain support from his base ahead of the 2020 election (though some think the gambit could backfire).

Neither woman knew many specifics of Trump’s plan, and some analysts have said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement simply doesn’t have the manpower to carry out a vast surge of arrests.

But the administration’s initial message stirred strong — and very different — emotions in each woman: fear for Cisneros, hope for Hvidston.

Hvidston, 63, an Upland resident and longtime anti-illegal immigration activist, leads a group that lobbies for stricter border enforcement.

“I do hope he actually has a plan,” Hvidston said of Trump, who has made cracking down on illegal immigration a cornerstone of his presidency.

California police are refusing to take part in Trump’s immigration sweeps. Here’s why »

Cisneros, 37, is a Salvadoran woman without legal status who has lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade after escaping from her husband, who had threatened to kill her, she said.

At her home near MacArthur Park earlier this week, Cisneros watched a television broadcast in Spanish, flashing news excerpts of Trump’s pledge. Later, while sitting by the park with her daughter, she felt a jolt of angst. She held on to her baby bump. She wondered what would happen to her children if she were rounded up.

“We’re asking God to protect us,” she said.

Across California and other states this week, many people besides migrants without legal status — including immigrant rights activists, local law enforcement and elected officials — have been bracing for potential Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and preparing to deal with the fallout.

Trump tweeted Monday night that ICE agents “will begin deporting the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States … as fast as they come in.” He suggested that the raids would start next week and called on congressional Democrats to address the “border crisis.”

His tweet came ahead of his reelection campaign kickoff in Florida, and some immigration analysts say that it severely overstated the number of likely deportees and the ability of immigration agents to remove them.

Mark Morgan, the acting director of ICE, said this week that agents would be targeting more than 2,000 members of immigrant families who already have been ordered to be deported. The agency says it will prioritize the arrest and removal of unlawfully present migrants “who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”

In fiscal year 2018, the agency said, 90% of removals had either a criminal conviction, pending criminal charges or were ICE fugitives or illegal re-entrants with records for prior removals.

Some reports suggest that the raids will begin in the predawn hours on Sunday. Morgan said that the raids will include families whose cases were expedited at 10 immigration courts nationwide, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Miami, New Orleans and New York City.

Morgan suggested that thousands of people would be deported, at least initially — not millions, as Trump stated.

Regardless of how many he ultimately deports, Trump’s continuing hard-line stance probably will serve his long-term objectives, said Hiroshi Motomura, an immigration law expert and professor at UCLA.

“I think that these tweets really accomplish two things. One is to play to his base. I don’t think he needs to deport millions of people to convince them he is doing something,” Motomura said. “The second thing he is trying to accomplish is to make people afraid. People will leave on their own. You make them afraid so they keep their heads down and low and are willing to work in exploitative situations.”

The impact of Trump’s threats also could have tangible long-term consequences, such as reduced participation in the 2020 U.S. Census count, Motomura said.

Beyond the rhetoric, many in the immigrant rights community are taking Trump at his word and gearing up for whatever may come in the future.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), said that her organization is part of a rapid response network that stands ready to deploy immigrant rights advocates to respond to raids. Some advocates probably will be dispatched to immigrant detention centers, trying to help people who get rounded up bond out.

“We are going to try to save and guard families from deportations,” Salas said. “It’s a race against time.”

In Orange County, Resilience OC, a group that fights for immigration justice, said it plans to launch a tip-and-help hotline early next week.

Organizers also plan to hold at least three “Know your rights” workshops for immigrants in coming weeks.

Some local law enforcement agencies, including the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, are trying to distance themselves from ICE and the federal policies it enforces.

“I want the public to know, our deputies are committed to keeping you safe regardless of your immigration status. President Trump’s tweets about mass deportation does not mean our deputies are going to turn into federal immigration agents asking criminals and victims where they were born,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a prepared statement.

The Los Angeles Police Department said Friday that the ICE actions beginning Sunday across seven Southern California counties would target about 140 immigrants with deportation orders.

But LAPD Chief Michel Moore said that the anticipated raids don’t “have anything to do with the Los Angeles Police Department.” His department would play no role in the operation, he said, echoing a decades-old LAPD policy of not detaining or questioning anyone over their immigration or citizenship status.

“We are not an extension of ICE,” said Moore, who has been meeting with consuls general and various community stakeholders regarding the reported enforcement actions.

California state officials also have decried the administration’s plans, as have mayors of several reportedly targeted cities, including Chicago and Houston.

“The President’s proposed raids are cruel, misdirected and are creating unnecessary fear and anxiety,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “I want Californians to know they have legal rights and protections, regardless of their immigration status.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said that his city rejected “this administration’s politics of fear and exclusion, which is tearing our families apart.”

“It’s important for all members of our San Jose community — regardless of immigration status — to know they have rights and that our San Jose Police Department will not participate in any ICE investigation or enforcement activity,” Liccardo said.

He encouraged residents to “inform themselves about their rights and remain vigilant for ICE agents entering a home or business without consent or a valid warrant.”

He also asked residents to report the location of any ICE activity, and to get a description of any ICE vehicle, badge numbers, photos or other information related to any such activity, and share it with the city’s Rapid Response Network “so that we can gather the information, and where appropriate, take legal action.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a statement declaring that “unconfirmed reports” that his city would be targeted “have created a great deal of anxiety for some and it proves once again this country needs comprehensive immigration reform.”

“Houston depends on the ingenuity, the sweat and the rich cultural contributions of its immigrants,” the statement continued. “One of four Houstonians is foreign born and we are the most diverse big city in the U.S. We welcome newcomers of all kinds when they come to our city to work hard and make a home.”

Back in Los Angeles, earlier this week, men in dark clothes lingered in MacArthur Park, muttering “ID?” to strangers as they walked by — an offer to sell fake documentation. Inside some local businesses, Spanish-language TV broadcast images of crowded detention centers.

“If there’s a raid, I say, ‘God, we’re in your hands,’” said Ana Martinez, a 60-year-old legal resident who came from El Salvador 27 years ago and has children she left behind in her country.

Hvidston, who caught wind of Trump’s announcement during a lobbying trip in Sacramento, is yearning for a different outcome. She knows that deporting millions of people will pose a huge logistical challenge. But she’s heartened by the possibility that President Trump will deliver on his latest vow.

“I’m a base voter,” she said. “I’m the type of voter he’s seeking to maybe give some hope to.”

Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston contributed to this report.

Follow Cindy Carcamo on Twitter @thecindycarcamo