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ICE director on due process, rule of law and upcoming deportations

On Twitter Monday night, President Trump announced plans for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to step up removal of undocumented immigrants from the U.S. next week. How will these people be located and what happens to them next -- especially the families? Amna Nawaz talks to ICE Acting Director Mark Morgan, who served as chief of U.S. Border Patrol during the Obama administration.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump revealed plans on Twitter last night for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, to begin removing — quote — "millions of illegal aliens as fast as they come in" starting week.

    Amna Nawaz spoke to the top ICE administration official earlier today.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Here with me now is former chief of U.S. Border Patrol under the Obama administration and current acting director of ICE, Mark Morgan.

    Director Morgan, welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Mark Morgan:

    Thank you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So we heard there the president tweeted about this launch of mass arrests next week. He repeated that on the White House lawn just a little while ago.

    Is your agency launching mass arrests beginning next week?

  • Mark Morgan:

    Well, from a law enforcement perspective, I'm not going to confirm our operational activities, for, I think, obvious reasons.

    But what I can say is, the president is very clear with what he's tweeting out is that he wants to maintain the integrity of the system, and he wants to make sure that we're supporting and enforcing the rule of law. And that's really what this is about. That's really what the tweet is about, is that, if you are here in violation of federal immigration law, regardless of what classification or demographic you fall within, that law is going to be applied to you fairly and justice — justice across the board.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But the president is saying these will begin next week. You can't confirm if what the president is saying is true?

  • Mark Morgan:

    I'm not going to confirm from an operational capacity and stance when we are actually going to do this.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In the process of launch some mass arrests, if you do so moving forward, as has been floated before, we have seen this happen in the past, right, where ICE agents will arrest a parent while a child is being dropped off at school or at work while children are in day care.

    What would you do in that circumstance to make sure that children aren't left behind while parents are detained or deported?

  • Mark Morgan:

    So, that's a good question.

    Let me tell you what we have done and what we will continue to do. Specifically with families, we have given them a tremendous amount of due process. We have made sure that they have had access to attorneys. We have made sure they have access to legal counsel, interpreters. We have made sure that they knew when where they were supposed to go.

    We even worked with the Department of Justice to form expedited dockets, so that families were put in the head of the line. And when we did that, over 90 percent failed to show up.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    it's interesting you mentioned that, though.

    There was stories back in January about fake dates being provided by ICE agents, meaning there was mass miscommunication. Families showed up. Thousands of families showed up to the date that wasn't actually the date they were supposed to get.

    That was ICE's fault. How do you know the same thing isn't happening today?

  • Mark Morgan:

    So, I would have to look at that data. I'm not — not sure that those numbers are correct, what you're telling me right now.

    But, again, let me say that the due process has been provided. We have sent out over 2,000 letters once they received a final order of removal. And we said, hey, come in, bring your family, work with ICE. We will give you 30 days to get your affairs in order, and then we will help return you to your country.

    And so, right now, what I would tell these individuals that have had final orders, come to ICE, turn yourself in, right, work with ICE, and we will help remove you back to your country of origin, rather than ICE having to come out, agents having to come and try to track you down to enforce the rule of law.

    So I would — I would tell these families, come work with ICE. Don't make us go after you and get you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Are you worried that the president's tweet or public statement in any way endangers the safety of ICE agents?

  • Mark Morgan:

    I think that's always a concern.

    But, right now, the message we're trying to get out there is — is to really make them aware that we are going to enforce the rule of law. What we hope is going to happen is just what I said, is that they're actually going to work with us. They're going to come and turn themselves in to ICE agents. And we will work with them to remove them to their countries.

    We don't want to have to go and track them down into the neighborhoods and the cities. We don't want that. And I don't want that for the families.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But you are concerned that your own agents could be put at risk by the president publicizing this in advance?

  • Mark Morgan:

    No, I'm not concerned that the agents will be put at risk. They're professionals. They know exactly what they need to do. And they have the tools and training to make sure that they conduct these operations for — within safety for themselves, as well as the individuals that they are trying to apprehend.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, last year, when the Oakland mayor publicized to her community an impending raid, the Trump administration said that she was putting agents' lives at risk.

    See things different now?

  • Mark Morgan:

    I see this differently, because, again, you have asked me to give specifics. And I'm not giving specifics.

    My recollection of that, the mayor actually gave specifics, more detailed information about the arrests in specific cities. Right now, those specifics aren't out there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Senator Lindsey Graham said today that we need to prioritize people who are here illegally that present a security threat of some kind.

    You are already over the congressionally funded limit of people in detention. You were funded for 42,000 beds. You're at a record high 52,000 detainees on any given day.

    If you were to prioritize people, wouldn't that lessen the stress on the system, improve conditions for detainees?

  • Mark Morgan:

    So, hardworking men and women of ICE every day prioritize.

    And our priorities will always be to remove those individuals who pose a violent threat to this country, rapists, pedophiles, murderers. That has been and that will always be our priority.

    But having a priority doesn't mean then you ignore and exempt other categories. Priority doesn't mean you ignore certain categories. And that's what we're doing right now. We need to make sure that we send the right message that, if you come here, you receive due process, and you receive an order of removal, that you should be removed. The rule of law should be applied to you equally.

    And that's what this is about.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Of the nearly 160,000 people arrested by ICE last year, there are only 3 percent had final deportation orders. Over 54,000 had absolutely no criminal record.

    How is that a safety and security priority?

  • Mark Morgan:

    Again, I will reiterate that, that the — the threat priority will always be the same.

    So, if you look at those numbers, the majority of them were criminals, though. So, through our criminal apprehension program, working with our sheriff's offices, the majority of people that we are removing, that we are arresting are, in fact, criminal aliens.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thirty-four percent, though, were not. And they are going into facilities that are already near or past capacity.

    Twenty-four people have died in ICE detention in the Trump administration, three since April alone.

    So, if you were to lessen the number of people in custody, would that not help to make sure no one else dies on your watch?

  • Mark Morgan:

    No, I think you're mixing two things that are completely unrelated.

    Again, we have to focus about the rule of law and the integrity of the system. If you come here in violation of federal law, you should have consequences applied. The rule of law should be enforced.

    And just because you're not a criminal alien doesn't mean we shouldn't enforce the law. If we do that, the integrity has no system. If we do that, the entire process, to include a removal order by a judge, is meaningless, if we never apply.

    And that's what they understand. If you come here with a child, that's a passport in the United States. And once you get here, if nothing ever happens to you, the pull factor is unbelievable. They're going to keep coming with a child, get in here. Nothing happens to you. That's a slippery slope, and no integrity in the system, and the rule of law is being eroded if we don't apply consequences.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    None of that changes the fact that, in your detention centers right now, watchdog groups have found egregious violations, inadequate medical care.

    I will mention again 24 people dying in your detention centers over the last year. What are you doing to stop that?

  • Mark Morgan:

    So, every single day, we're trying to improve what we do.

    And if you look nationally, the statistics on the facilities that we have is that we are trying to improve. The I.G. came out with a report that talked about conditions in 2018. We have met every single one of those conditions.

    And I think we can always get better, and we are striving to get better. But that's a different issue than the issue of enforcing the rule of law and making sure that there's integrity in the system.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Another investigation found that you have been — or ICE has been improperly deporting military veterans. One immigration advocate said there could be as many 2,000.

    Do you know how many military veterans you have deported?

  • Mark Morgan:

    So, I don't have that level of detail at this point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you intend to find out?

  • Mark Morgan:

    But again — of course. I have been on the job for three weeks. And I will continue to do everything I can to get better at what we do.

    But that still does not remove the need to enforce the law against people that are here illegally and to try to stop the humanitarian crisis. And the best way that we can do to apply consequences that — those that have final removal orders.

    If we do that, we will send a message to stop coming, to stop taking that dangerous trek. Right now, we have children that are being bought. They are being rented and brought across the border as a fake family, and then being recycled and being rented again.

    That's something we should all be concerned about. If we apply the rule of law and apply consequences, that's going to stop happening. All Americans should be concerned about that and get behind that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Acting Director of ICE Mark Morgan, thanks for being here.

  • Mark Morgan:

    You bet. Thank you.

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