VOA's Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — U.S. officials reportedly plan to start immigration raids on Sunday and are expected to target at least 2,000 undocumented people for whom deportation orders have been issued, some as a result of their failure to appear in court for immigration proceedings.
Though not confirmed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the operation comes three weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump promised to start deporting "millions of illegal aliens" from the United States.
“As always, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” Matthew Bourke, an ICE spokesman, said in a statement.
Bourke declined to offer specific details about any pending enforcement operations, but said, “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and - if found removable by final order - removal from the United States.”
The New York Times first reported the raids on Thursday. According to the newspaper, the operation will take place across 10 major cities and last multiple days.
The Trump White House has spoken of such deportation plans for months.
On Wednesday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli told reporters the agency would first target 1 million immigrants who have been issued final deportation orders.
An ICE official told VOA that totals are "not immediately available" for the number of people facing deportation orders or who have been placed in removal proceedings.
ICE reported 256,085 for fiscal year 2018 and 226,119 for 2017.
According to the NYT, the raids could trigger “collateral” deportations of undocumented people who happened to be at the scene but weren't targets of the operation. The newspaper quoted immigration officials as saying that detained families will be held together and subject to swift deportation.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) decried the raids as cruel by design.
"This is not an effort to root out dangerous individuals - this is an act of brutish force designed to spread fear in the immigrant community," he said.
Cornell University immigration law professor Stephen W. Yale-Loehr said, while the Trump administration has the right to deport people with legitimate final deportation orders, some of those orders could be challenged.
“Given the inefficiencies in the immigration court system, many people may have been ordered deported illegally because the immigration agency didn’t have their correct address to notify them about their immigration court date. In such cases, they may have the right to reopen their immigration case,” he said.
Yale-Loehr said undocumented people living in the U.S. have certain constitutional rights.
“Immigration agents are not legally allowed to forcibly enter a home [without authorization]. Immigrants can refuse to open the door when an agent approaches, unless the agents have a valid search warrant,” Yale-Loehr added.