In June, President Donald Trump announced that in one week’s time, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” a massive operation specifically targeting more than 2,000 undocumented families who previously had received final orders of removal from the United States.
More than a month—and one postponement—later, the acting director of ICE told reporters on Tuesday that the so-called “family operation” netted 35 people.
“The number of individuals arrested pursuant to that operation,” Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence told reporters in an on-the-record call on Tuesday morning, “was 35 individuals.” Of those arrested, Albence said, 18 were family members or parts of targeted family units, and 17 more were other undocumented immigrants found in the course of the operation.
Albence bristled when the operations were characterized as “raids,” saying that the word—which Trump has used to describe the agency’s operations in the past—“brings up all sorts of emotions” and “does a disservice to anybody that’s involved in these operations.”
The operation, Albence said, was “a targeted enforcement action against a specific individuals,” and not a series of indiscriminate raids, even though half of those arrested were not initially targeted.
The total number of arrests falls stunningly short of ICE’s highly publicized target goal of roughly 2,100 family units, and directly contradicts Trump’s public assertions that the lack of observable ICE activity during the weekend of the operation was due to the agency’s operational stealth.
“People came into our country illegally,” Trump said during an event at the White House last weekend, adding that Albence had told him that ICE had “very successful day.”
“Many, many were taken out on Sunday. You just didn’t know about it,” Trump added. “I’m not sure they should be telling you, but it was a lot.”
Albence declined to provide reporters with a timeline of ICE’s operation, named “Operation Border Resolve,” or a regional breakdown of where the arrests occurred, citing “operational security,” and blamed the low arrest total on a variety of factors, ranging from a public information campaign by immigration advocates to “surveillance” of ICE agents to a tropical depression in New Orleans.
“There’s no way for us to quantify” the effect of advocates, including immigration lawyers and members of Congress, who flooded social media with fact sheets in the hopes of preparing undocumented people in the event that ICE agents showed up on their doorstep.
“It’s crucial that people who might be targeted by these enforcement actions be having conversations as families,” Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told The Daily Beast ahead of the operation. “We tell people, you must have a conversation with your family about what you would do if immigration came to your home. Who would you call? What’s your line of emergency calls you would make?”
The fruits of that preparation, Albence said, included undocumented immigrants who temporarily left their homes, or who had been informed that ICE could not enter their homes without a judicial warrant. Albence denied that Trump’s numerous tweets ahead of the operation had a negative effect on the arrest numbers and, instead, putting the blame on “a lot of fanfare and media attention.”
“I mean, look, this has been out in the media,” Albence said. “This wasn’t a secret.”
Albence still defended the comparatively miniscule number of arrests as “absolutely” successful, and said while the rest of the targeted families “may have escaped detection for a short period of time… we’re patient.”
“This is just the beginning of the operation,” Albence said.