Updated July 14, 3:50 pm
WASHINGTON - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents launched nationwide immigration raids Sunday aimed at arresting immigrants in the country who are facing deportation, so they can be sent back to their homelands.
The campaign, confirmed Friday by U.S. President Donald Trump, is expected to focus on hundreds of families in nine major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
"People are coming into this country illegally, we are taking them out legally," Trump said.
ICE agents will target mostly immigrants who are considered dangerous. Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence said the immigrants being sought are on an "accelerated docket" of immigration court cases.
Trump's immigration raids are expected to be well received by voters who voted for him on his repeated promises to crack down on migrants illegally in the U.S. Opposition Democrats have denounced the operation, declaring it is inhumane to target families, many of them from Central America, looking for a better life in the United States.
Trump claimed that a "big percentage of criminals" are already being held at detention centers in Texas, near the southern U.S. border with Mexico, where Vice President Mike Pence visited on Friday.
"Sorry, can't let them into our Country," Trump said on Twitter. "If too crowded, tell them not to come to USA, and tell the Dems to fix the Loopholes - Problem Solved!"
He said the Friday tour "showed vividly, to politicians and the media, how well run and clean the children's detention centers are. Great reviews!"
Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump-appointed acting director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services office, rejected the suggestion that the raids are a political stunt. He told CNN, "While lots of people in this government were saying it is a manufactured crisis... those people are now coming to the border and realizing we do have a real crisis."
Sunday's raids are also set to occur in Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Houston, Miami and San Francisco.
In the days leading up to the raids, the mostly Democratic mayors who run the cities have reiterated their policies of not cooperating with ICE officials on deportations and also have publicized telephone helplines immigrants can call to understand their rights.
Additionally, Democratic lawmakers and others have been informing immigrants of their rights and advising them not to open their doors for ICE unless the agents show a court-ordered warrant, and not to speak or sign anything without first talking with a lawyer.
Trump has said on Twitter his agents intend to arrest millions of immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally, while administration officials have said about 2,000 people would be targeted.
Albence said ICE agents will go after entire families who have been ordered to leave the country, but that some families may be separated if some members, but not others, are in the country without the proper documentation.
Trump made the unusual move of announcing the raids ahead of time and said Friday he was not concerned the early notice could help some of the targeted immigrants evade arrest.
Trump's confirmation of the raids came amid widespread criticism of the overcrowded, unsanitary conditions detained immigrants are allegedly residing in at facilities along the southwestern U.S. border. There also is considerable criticism that border officials are separating children from their parents.