CHICAGO -- The Trump administration is moving forward with a nationwide immigration enforcement operation targeting migrant families, despite loud opposition from Democrats and questions over whether it's the best use of resources given the crisis at the border.
The operation could happen as soon as this weekend after being postponed by President Donald Trump late last month. It would pursue people with final deportation orders, including families whose immigration cases were fast-tracked by judges in 10 major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.
The plan has sparked outrage and concern among immigrant-rights advocates and lawmakers.
"Our communities have been in constant fear," Estela Vara, a Chicago-area organizer said Thursday at a rally outside the city's Immigration and Custom Enforcement offices where some activists chanted "Immigration Not Deportation!"
The sweep remains in flux and could begin later, according to two administration officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The American Civil Liberties Union pre-emptively filed a lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to protect asylum seekers.
Meanwhile, activists ramped up efforts to prepare by bolstering know-your-rights pocket guides, circulating information about hotlines and planning public demonstrations. Vigils outside of detention centers and hundreds of other locations nationwide were set for Friday evening, to be followed by protests Saturday in Miami and Chicago.
The operation is similar to ones conducted regularly since 2003 that often produce hundreds of arrests. It is slightly unusual to target families, as opposed to immigrants with criminal histories, but it's not unprecedented. The Obama and Trump administrations have targeted families in previous operations.
This latest effort is notable because of the politics swirling around it.
Trump announced on Twitter last month that the sweep would mark the beginning of a push to deport millions of people who are in the country illegally, a near-impossibility given the limited resources of ICE, which makes the arrests and carries out deportation orders.
Then he abruptly canceled the operation after a phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, while lawmakers worked to pass a $4.6 billion border aid package . Plus, details had leaked, and authorities worried about the safety of ICE officers.
The agency said it would not discuss specifics about enforcement operations.
"As always, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security," it said in a statement.
Trump started hinting anew in recent days that more removals were coming. He said last weekend they would be starting "fairly soon."
"Well, I don't call them raids," he said. "I say they came in illegally and we're bringing them out legally."
Ken Cuccinelli, the new head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, told CNN on Wednesday that the raids were "absolutely going to happen."
Pelosi said she hoped the administration would reconsider. "Families belong together," she said.
Advocates in border areas have "received word" that up to 1,000 families are expected to arrive at an immigration center in Dilley, Texas, according to attorneys representing separated families in a long-running lawsuit.
In court papers filed Thursday, the attorneys said the government has not responded to questions about the operation.