MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Remember last month when President Trump said on Twitter that ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, would soon remove millions of people in the country illegally? Well, the initial tally is in. ICE is deporting people here illegally, but it has got a long way to go to meet the president's goal. I want to bring in NPR's Joel Rose. He covers immigration. He's here now.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: How close did ICE get to removing millions of people here illegally?
ROSE: Not close. In fact, the preliminary number we learned today is 35 arrests.
KELLY: Not millions.
ROSE: Not millions.
KELLY: Why 35?
ROSE: Well, the numbers are low. This operation targeted about 2,000 migrants who recently arrived as part of family groups. These are people who had already received final deportation orders from a judge. And all these figures, by the way, were announced today by the acting director of ICE, Matthew Albence, on a call with reporters. He was asked a couple of times why the numbers seemed so low compared to earlier ICE operations. And he said these past operations were more successful because ICE officers had the element of surprise.
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MATTHEW ALBENCE: When we conducted the operation, it was done without a lot of fanfare and media attention. So that certainly from an operational perspective is beneficial.
KELLY: Joel, I feel compelled to point out here that it was President Trump who called attention to these raids. He announced them in advance on Twitter.
ROSE: Indeed, and Albence was asked about that, too. He denied that the president's tweet had prevented the success of this operation. Instead, he blamed the media, also members of Congress and immigrant advocates for spreading the word about how to avoid ICE. But law enforcement officials say it is unprecedented for a president to publicize an ICE raid in advance. I talked to John Sandweg, the former acting head of ICE under President Obama, and I asked him about this number of arrests.
JOHN SANDWEG: It's a pretty stunningly low success rate, and I think you can attribute that in large part to the attention the president drew to this operation and the impact that had on the ability of ICE to find the targets where they expected to.
ROSE: To be clear, this operation has not ended. The current acting director, Matt Albence, said ICE is patient. His officers will keep looking for these folks and will deport them if they find them.
KELLY: OK. So we shall see if those ongoing operations are - if we get word of them in advance the next time around. Let me turn you to one more thing before I let you go. The Trump administration has also just expanded ISIS authority to quickly deport people here illegally. What does this change? How is this supposed to work?
ROSE: Right. Starting today, the administration is expanding what's called expedited removal. In effect, this is fast tracking the deportation of recent immigrants without giving them a hearing before an immigration judge. Immigrant advocates are angry and worried about this sudden expansion of ICE's power. They're concerned agents will use this new authority to arrest and deport not just recent immigrants but anybody who can't prove that they've been in the country for more than two years. The acting ICE director, Matt Albence, was asked about this on the call today as well and actually tried to downplay the impact of the change.
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ALBENCE: The individuals that would be subject to this expedited removal are the same individuals that are subject to enforcement action today or subject to enforcement action yesterday. We know who we're going after before we arrest them.
ROSE: Albence said ICE will mainly use this authority for people who have criminal records, in essence, to get them out of the country faster. But immigrant advocates do not find that reassuring, and they will certainly challenge this expansion in court.
KELLY: All right, lots to keep track of there.
NPR's Joel Rose, thank you very much.
ROSE: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARK PATROL'S "YOUR EYES (AND OTHER SAFE HAVENS)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.