(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump and his top immigration officials pushed back Sunday against reports of deplorable conditions for migrants at detention facilities on the southern U.S. border, as authorities in big cities prepared for mass arrests of undocumented immigrants.
Vice President Mike Pence toured facilities in Texas on Friday, including a McAllen Border Patrol station where migrants were being kept in cages, and said, “this is tough stuff.” Trump tweeted Sunday that centers for children are fine and that areas for single men “were clean but crowded -- also loaded up with a big percentage of criminals.”
“Sorry, can’t let them into our Country,” Trump tweeted. “If too crowded, tell them not to come to USA, and tell the Dems to fix the Loopholes - Problem Solved!”
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the facilities weren’t designed for the “swamping” of migrants and that Congress could address the conditions by providing more funding and changing asylum laws that he said encourage migrants to come to the U.S.
“Congress has let it happen,” Cuccinelli said on ABC’s “This Week,” one of two scheduled appearances on Sunday morning political shows.
The comments come as major cities, including Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and New York, braced Sunday for attempted raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents reportedly targeting 2,000 undocumented immigrants. The issue has become an increasingly divisive flashpoint under Trump, who was elected with a promise to wall off illegal migration.
The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a person it didn’t identify, that ICE began raids in at least two New York City neighborhoods on Saturday -- Harlem and Brooklyn’s Sunset Park -- but faced push-back from the people at the homes as they didn’t have warrants.
Cuccinelli and Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, declined to discuss details about the raids. But Trump said Friday that they start “on Sunday, and they’re going to take people out and take them back to their countries, or they’re going to take criminals and put them in prison or put them in prison in the countries they came from.”
Immigration authorities “are really specifically looking for bad players, but we’re also looking for people who came into our country not through a process, they just walked over a line,” Trump said.
Pence, interviewed by CNN in McAllen, Texas, on Friday, also described the people as individuals who are subject to deportation orders and, in most cases, have also committed other crimes in the U.S.
Responding to concerns raised by Democrats and others about separating families and ensnaring innocent people, Morgan said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the enforcement would be done with “humanity and compassion.” A woman in her third trimester of pregnancy, for example, would not be apprehended, he said.
But Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said on CBS there’s widespread fear in the Hispanic community and that the ICE raids would only exacerbate overcrowded conditions at detention facilities.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Trump ally and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he expects a vote before Congress’s August recess on his bill to stem the flow of migrants. He proposes requiring that immigrants from Central America apply for asylum in Mexico or their home countries instead of in the U.S. while also providing more aid to those nations. The State Department under Trump has cut off millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“This is a sick system,” Graham said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” “It is rotten to its core.”
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a 2020 presidential candidate, said Trump is trying to make news and distract from not keeping campaign promises on issues such as improving U.S. infrastructure.
“He wants chaos because it distracts everyone from all of these other things we should be talking about,” Klobuchar said on ABC. “He wants us to be talking about this today, and he uses these people as political pawns.”
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