The federal agency charged with deporting undocumented immigrants suspended a national sweep that it had been preparing for several weeks, involving agents from other federal and state agencies.
According to a copy of an internal memorandum obtained by Univision News, Shan Byers, assistant director of the ICE field office in Louisville, Ky., wrote that "due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey and pending Hurricane Irma, Operation Epic is being postponed until further notice. "
The operation was mentioned in another memo which Univision also obtained, and in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asked volunteers to collaborate with the operation called 'Cross Check VII - Operation Epic', which was scheduled to take place Sept 17-21.
"Cross Check VII - Operation Epic is an operation with several agencies participating, to include ICE-HSI (Immigration and Customs Enforecement -Homeland Security Investigations) and U.S. Marshalls. This operation will focus on locating and arresting criminal aliens, fugitives with a final deportation order, people who were left with expired visas and any undocumented immigrants," the document stated.
Due to the historic flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and the imminent threat of Hurricane Irma in Florida, ICE called off the mega raid. "Thanks to all who have worked hard to organize the operation and to all those who volunteered to carry it out," Byers wrote. "Once it is rescheduled, we will again request volunteers," she added.
The disclosure of ICE's plans immediately ignited concern in the immigrant community. The Detention Watch Network (DWN), as well as the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), United We Dream (UWD) and the National Immigration Law Center, condemned the operation, noting that 'Cross Check VII' targeted 6,000 to 10,000 immigrants.
DHS had previously announced that authorities handling the hurricane recovery effort would not ask victims of the storm for immigration papers.
Univision News asked the agency on Friday about the planned raids. The agency responded with a statement that it generally "does not comment on possible future police actions," and that operational plans "are subject to change based on a variety of factors."
It added that due to the current weahter conditions in Florida and other potentially affected areas, along with the ongoing recovery in Texas, ICE reviewed scheduled operations and made adjustments, but that "there is currently no planned Nacional level".
The agency also said its priority is still the recovery effort in Texas and life-saving operations in Florida, where Hurricane Irma is forecast to make landfall on Sunday.
But it warned that agents will continue to "search for and arrest criminal aliens, and others who are violating immigration laws," in areas of the country that have not been affected by hurricanes like Texas and Florida.
The ICE operation came to light three days after the Trump administration rescinded the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, (DACA), that benefited nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who entered the country as children.
"This mega-operation is one of many promises that President Trump made as a candidate during his campaign," said Juan Escalante, a Dreamer who is part of the group America's Voice.
"The unfortunate thing is that while it wants to show it has a good heart to the Dreamers, we see that the DHS is following orders to stop hundreds of immigrants and to destroy families, carrying out a policy that confirms the existence of a national deportation force that the president promised his followers," he added.