President Trump on Saturday said his administration would delay a series of immigration raids in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities aimed at rounding up and deporting thousands of families.
But he said the raids would be rescheduled in two weeks if Congress does not act to make the changes he is seeking in asylum laws, in order to cope with the surge of people arriving at the southern border.
“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,” he tweeted Saturday morning. “If not, Deportations start!”
Trump had defended the raids just hours earlier, speaking to reporters on the White House lawn before boarding Marine One for a flight to Camp David. He said the raids would begin shortly and help deter illegal crossings. In a tweet earlier in the week, Trump said ICE would begin removing “millions of illegal aliens.”
His abrupt reversal did little to relieve or reassure immigrants and their supporters.
“I’m tired. I’m done,” said Carmen, an undocumented 17-year-old living in Los Angeles. “What else is he gonna tweet? Tomorrow is he gonna say, ‘Just kidding, we’re starting the raids again’?”
She said she spent several hours Friday night creating an emergency plan, which including sharing her cellphone’s GPS location with family and friends, communicating with her lawyer, and joining a group chat with family in the U.S. and in Mexico so that everyone could mobilize in case something happened to her. After seeing Trump’s tweet Saturday, she let out a sigh of exhaustion.
“People forget there are actual humans behind legislation and behind these tweets,” she said. “It seems like it’s just a game for politicians.”
Angelica Salas, the executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said immigrants in the country without legal status live in tremendous fear for themselves and their families, and their lives hang in the balance.
“I think it is so cruel what he is doing,” she said of Trump. What was particularly striking was the “level of dishonesty, in that he’s using the fear and people as leverage for his demands on Congress.”
Salas suggested the president was getting pushback about the logistics of his announced sweeps, as well as political backlash from those in and out of the Republican Party.
“Even law enforcement — our LAPD, our sheriff — everyone is saying this is the wrong way to do what you are doing,” Salas said. “I can only use the word ‘harmful.’ Others say ‘disgraceful.’ All those adjectives really speak to his lack of thinking through about the impact this has on communities.”
It’s a familiar Trump tactic, using a threat as a cudgel to extract concessions from Democrats and others. But it is one that hasn’t often paid real dividends beyond optics.
In 2017, he announced he would terminate an Obama-era program that protected so-called Dreamers — young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children — in a failed attempt to pressure Congress to pass an immigration bill that included new restrictions on legal immigration.
The president’s 35-day government shutdown earlier this year similarly ended without Democrats agreeing to his terms — in that case, funding for a border wall. And Trump relented on a threat earlier this month to impose tariffs on Mexico, claiming that his threats compelled Mexico’s government to do more to prevent Central American migrants from crossing into the U.S.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who had telephoned Trump on Friday night and urged him to cancel the raids, called the delay “welcome.” But she warned that an extensive immigration bill would take significant time.
“Time is needed for comprehensive immigration reform,” she tweeted after Trump announced the delay. “Families belong together.”
Earlier in the day, Pelosi had called on faith leaders to try to stop the Sunday raids — a day of religious services in many communities, she noted.
“The evangelical community has said that America’s refugee resettlement program is the crown jewel of American humanitarianism,” Pelosi said. “I hope that they and other people of faith would convey that value to the president.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a statement Saturday in support of Trump’s postponement of Sunday’s planned raids but reaffirmed the administration’s hard-line policies in dealing with the surge of migrants at the U.S. border.
“Illegal aliens continue gaming the system by smuggling children to gain access to our country,” the statement said. “After violating our laws, they further disrespect our country by refusing to show up for their hearings in court — so they are not even present when a judge orders them to be removed.”
The agency added that “the President’s postponement protects [ICE] officers and provides an opportunity for Congress to swiftly work together in a bipartisan fashion to end the incentives for child smuggling and ensure all illegal aliens can be promptly returned upon apprehension at the southern border.”
Although the administration has spent months working on a plan to more strictly enforce immigration laws that focused on deporting non-criminals with final removal orders, ICE has been scrambling to prepare to carry out the president’s orders, which would no doubt further strain the already overburdened agency’s limited resources.
And while administration officials privately admit that any potential roundups would not occur on the scale the president described in his tweet on Monday, they also cautioned Democrats from interpreting Saturday’s postponement as a complete walk-back.
However malleable Trump may have again showed himself to be when it comes to relenting on or at least postponing his threats, he remains focused on tightening immigration restrictions and demonstrating progress when it comes to securing on the border, his supporters say.
“Democrats should know by now that he’s serious on this issue,” said one Trump administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He’s willing to be flexible and give them some more time, but at some point, he’s going to force Democrats to change these [asylum] laws or ICE is going to go ahead with this plan.”
When Trump first announced news of the deportations, Maribel Cisneros wasn’t sure how seriously to take him. 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 last 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.
Salas said the cumulative effect of the political maneuvering and Trump’s rhetoric has compounded suffering.
“We love [this country] so much,” Salas said. “The disregard, the callousness, and the continuous message from the president of the United States that a whole segment of America is not wanted.... it’s really painful, really painful.”
Amid the confusion, Salas said her organization will continue to focus on preparation so that immigrants in the country illegally know their rights if ICE agents visit their homes.
“Maybe we can’t control what this man is doing,” Salas said of Trump, “but we can control how we respond to him.”
Stokols and Haberkorn reported from Washington, D.C., and Hamilton from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Cindy Carcamo, Maya Lau, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Alejandra Velarde-Reyes and Richard Winton contributed to this story.