Immigration and Customs Enforcement is exploring options to arrest and deport families who have gone through their legal proceedings and have been ordered to depart the US, new acting ICE Director Mark Morgan said on Tuesday.
The Department of Homeland Security – strapped from a lack of resources and overwhelmed by the sheer number of migrants crossing the border – is unable to deport all those who are ordered to be removed from the country and has said it focuses on the people it deems most dangerous.
The operation under consideration would target migrants with a “final order of removal,” Morgan said.
“I think we can’t exempt anybody,” Morgan told reporters at ICE headquarters in Washington. “That will include families.”
Morgan described the potential deportation of families as a way to reduce the incentive for migrants to travel to the United States. Families are often released into the US following their apprehension, given the limits on the time children can be held in government custody.
In recent months, there has been a steep uptick in families apprehended at the southern border. In April, for example, families made up the majority of apprehensions, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
CNN first reported last month that the administration had been considering deporting migrant families with court-ordered removals in an attempt to “send a message” to smugglers, according to a senior administration official.
The Obama administration also deployed an operation targeting families in the later years. It was revived in President Donald Trump’s first year in office.
Morgan said he wasn’t yet sure how or when an operation would be carried out.
ICE, like other agencies within DHS, is facing an increase of migrants in its custody. As of Monday, there were around 52,000 single adults in ICE custody – an all-time high that exceeds funding levels yet again, according to the agency.
“We’re not at a breaking point,” Morgan said. “We’re in the middle of a breaking point.”
Trump has put the onus on Mexico to help resolve the flow of migrants to the US-Mexico border, threatening the country with tariffs.
Morgan agreed that Mexico needs to to “step up” and “get off the sidelines,” calling on Mexico to strengthen its interdiction efforts and target transnational criminal organizations.
“They have 150 miles of choke point and a couple of major roads that are choke points that they could easily interdict. We have 2,000 miles along the southwest border,” Morgan said, referring to Mexico.
Morgan added that there’s been an administration push for Mexico to become a “safe third country,” which the United Nations’ refugee agency defines, in part, as “being countries in which refugees can enjoy asylum without any danger.” Doing so, Morgan said, would “really mandate Mexico to step up and really do more of what I believe they should be doing.”
In the interim, the acting ICE director repeatedly called on Congress to act. The White House asked Congress for $4.5 billion in emergency funds for the border, but it has not yet been fulfilled.