Texas Democrat Says ICE Deliberately Keeping Facilities Empty to 'Make Room' for Sunday's Raids

Only days before the Trump administration is set to begin rounding up thousands of migrants around the U.S. for deportation, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of Texas claimed Friday morning that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was deliberately keeping some of its facilities empty to prepare for these raids.

"ICE is telling us there's not enough beds, yet we know there are empty facilities," Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso, told CNN's John Berman. "I believe the reason they're keeping many of their facilities empty is to make room for the interior raids."

Speaking to reporters Friday after announcing the resignation of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump said that the previously announced nationwide immigration arrests will indeed start on Sunday, as had been reported by multiple news outlets.

"They're going to take people out, and they're going to bring them back to their countries," he said on Friday. "We're focused on criminals as much as we can, before we do anything else."

The ICE raids come after an earlier plan in late June to conduct mass immigration arrests stalled after receiving fierce pushback; Trump claimed he put the earlier plans on hold "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 on Saturday, June 22, one day before the enforcement action was set to begin. "If not, Deportations start!"

ICE is reportedly targeting at least 2,000 immigrants spread throughout ten U.S. cities. However, the president and members of his administration have repeatedly made the claim that they will be deporting "millions."

In a statement to Newsweek, ICE refused to comment about Escobar's allegations or the nature of Sunday's raids.

"Due to law-enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, the agency will not offer specific details related to enforcement operations," an ICE spokesperson said in a written statement. "As always, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security. In fact, 90 percent of aliens arrested by ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations component in FY2018 had either a criminal conviction(s), pending criminal charge(s), were an ICE fugitive, or illegally reentered the country after previously being removed."

Previous reporting from Newsweek, other outlets and an immigration agency watchdog over the past few months has added to the mounting evidence of mismanagement and neglect at ICE and Border Patrol facilities.

In an exclusive, Newsweek previously revealed that the number of single, adult detainees in Border Patrol custody was swelling at a rate of 1,000 per week as unprecedented numbers of migrants—arriving increasingly as family units and unaccompanied minors—crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general documented severe overcrowding and squalid conditions in processing facilities along the southern border. The immigration agencies have contended their facilities are at capacity and cannot sustain the historic number of migrant crossings.

Partially in response to this challenge, ICE has developed plans to construct six tent-cities near processing stations along the southern border to transfer single adults out of Border Patrol custody as quickly as possible to make room for new arrivals.

The Friday morning allegation from Escobar, that ICE is deliberately keeping beds open to prepare for forthcoming raids, if true, suggests that the agency may be exacerbating its own predicament. Although Escobar did not provide direct evidence for her claim, she alluded to comments she says she received from Border Patrol officials indicating that ICE was responsible for the immigration detention backlog.

Fresh Mark Worksite
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) special agent preparing to arrest alleged immigration violators at Fresh Mark, Salem, June 19, 2018. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty