Eight days ago, Donald Trump blindsided much of his own team by announcing a new initiative: he would use Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.” The raids were scheduled to begin six days later in several major American cities.
As the administration scrambled to mobilize, the president reversed course the day before the raids were poised to begin. Just hours after defending his plan, Trump said the mass deportations would be delayed. (His stated explanation didn’t make much sense.)
Immigrants and their advocates in targeted communities weren’t sure what to think – this president has earned a reputation for saying one thing and doing another – and as it turns out, some ICE officials felt a similar sense of uncertainty.
The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer noted in a new piece, published yesterday, that the agency – generally seen as politically aligned with the White House – is “losing patience” with Trump’s erratic approach. John Amaya, a former deputy chief of staff at ICE, told Blitzer the president’s directive was “a dumb-s**t political move.”
On Sunday, I spoke to an ICE officer about the week’s events. “Almost nobody was looking forward to this operation,” the officer said. “It was a boondoggle, a nightmare.” Even on the eve of the operation, many of the most important details remained unresolved.
“This was a family op. So where are we going to put the families? There’s no room to detain them, so are we going to put them in hotels?” the officer said. On Friday, an answer came down from ice leadership: the families would be placed in hotels while ice figured out what to do with them. That, in turn, raised other questions. “So the families are in hotels, but who’s going to watch them?” the officer continued. “What happens if the person we arrest has a U.S.-citizen child? What do we do with the children? Do we need to get booster seats for the vans? Should we get the kids toys to play with?”
Trump’s tweet broadcasting the operation had also created a safety issue for the officers involved. “No police agency goes out and says, ‘Tomorrow, between four and eight, we’re going to be in these neighborhoods,’ ” the officer said.
While the ICE officer didn’t want to be identified, it’d be a mistake to assume he or she was alone. Indeed, even acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan was rather transparent in raising concerns about Trump’s gambit.
The New Yorker piece went on to note that Barack Obama was “never popular” with ICE agents, especially after the Democratic administration imposed new enforcement priorities on the agency in 2014.
But Blitzer’s source said Trump’s predecessor is now seen in a different light. The ICE officer the reporter spoke to said, “One person told me, ‘I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the Obama rules. We removed more people with the rules we had in place than with all this. It was much easier when we had the priorities. It was cleaner.’”
Trump, naturally, abandoned the Obama-era guidelines, which has created a chaotic governing dynamic.
“I don’t even know what we’re doing now,” the ICE officer added.