A nationwide immigration enforcement operation targeting people who are in the United States illegally is expected to begin this weekend in Denver and other cities after it was postponed last month by President Donald Trump, according to administration officials and immigrant activists.
The operation would target people with final deportation orders, including families whose immigration cases were fast-tracked by judges in 10 major cities. The list also includes Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.
Both CNN and NBC are reporting that Denver is among the 10 cities to be targeted. A Thursday tweet by Colorado U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette also stated that the city was on the list.
"ALERT: ICE is reportedly planning to begin nationwide raids on immigrants in 10 cities on Sunday. One of the cities being targeted is Denver," she tweeted. "If an ICE agent shows up at your door, you need to know your rights."
When contacted by Colorado Politics on Thursday, ICE declined to comment on reports that Denver would be among target cities, citing "law enforcement sensitivities."
Officials with both the Denver and Colorado Springs police departments told Colorado Politics on Thursday that the departments don't enforce federal immigration laws.
The Denver County Sheriff's Office does not patrol or arrest, a spokeswoman said.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has not been asked to participate in any ICE raids this weekend, a spokeswoman said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, issued a statement Thursday afternoon calling the proposed raids "another failure of leadership by the Trump administration."
“If true, these reports are of great concern," he said in the statement. " ... Instead of working with Congress to find a real, comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system, the president is unfortunately focused on creating uncertainty and fear. These actions make our communities less safe and increase distrust of law enforcement. Colorado celebrates our immigrant communities, and we will not allow the public safety of Coloradans to be held hostage by the Trump administration.”
Democratic members of Colorado's congressional delegation took to Twitter on Thursday to denounce the raids, calling them heart-breaking and anti-American.
"My heart breaks for the families who came to America hoping to find safe harbor, and instead are being used by this administration for political gain," U.S. Rep. Jason Crow tweeted. "We stand with our immigrant neighbors and refuse to let this administration perpetuate a culture of fear in Colorado."
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter tweeted similarly, calling the Trump administration's strategy one of "fear, intimidation and cruelty" and saying that it "goes against America's founding values."
A tweet by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet asserted that the raids will be useless.
"Raiding homes, stoking fear and tearing apart families is at war with who we are as a country and will do nothing to address the humanitarian crisis on our border or our broken immigration system. #StopTheRaids," he tweeted.
"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 the administration officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Still, 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 were set for Friday, 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.
But 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 in a statement that 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," according to the statement.
Pelosi said she hoped the administration would reconsider. "Families belong together," she said.
The administration has been straining to manage a border crisis , and some officials believe flashy shows of force in deporting families would deter others migrants from coming. But others have criticized any move that draws resources away from the border at a time when the Border Patrol is detaining four times the number of people it can hold. Also, a watchdog report found filthy, potentially dangerous conditions at some stations.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a former immigrant advocate, accused the administration of showing a "willingness to be cruel at every turn. It sickens me that this is this is the United States of America. We are so much better than this."
Some activists said they were gearing up for operations to start Sunday and planned to protest. Organizers estimated a rally planned for Saturday in Chicago would draw around 10,000 people.
"We will not be swayed by fear and fiat," said Justin Valas with Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago.
Others said they were skeptical that Trump would follow through on the threat.
Advocates have ramped up know-your-rights training since Trump took office, reminding immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, about their right to remain silent and to ask authorities for proper paperwork.
They have also explained that immigrants can often avoid arrest simply by not opening doors to agents, who need permission to enter private homes. That has forced ICE officers to wait outside courthouses and other public places to make arrests.
"We don't want to alarm folks, but we want to alert folks," said Melissa Taveras of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
The Gazette's Erin Prater, Ellie Mulder and Mark Harden, as well as The Associated Press, contributed.