“The timing was unfortunate,” Kevin McAleenan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
McAleenan explained in the interview the immigration enforcement actions — which occurred in the days after a gunman in El Paso, Texas, targeted Latinos and immigrants, and another shooter opened fire in Dayton, Ohio — were long-planned.
“In terms of the ICE operations, these are enforcement operations that are part of their daily cycle,” he said. “Something like this has been planned for over a year. This is a criminal investigation with 14 federal warrants issued by a judge and ICE had to follow through on that. It was already planned and in motion.”
McAleenan’s comments come after US immigration authorities detained some 680 undocumented immigrants last week in what a federal prosecutor described as a record-setting operation.
US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst told reporters the arrests took place at seven sites in six different cities in Mississippi on Wednesday. The raids, he said, are “believed to be the largest single-state immigration enforcement operation in our nation’s history.”
McAleenan wouldn’t say on Sunday whether Trump himself was aware of the raids before they began, instead saying, “the President doesn’t run law enforcement operations.”
Another top administration official took a harsher tone on CNN. Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, downplayed on Sunday an emotional video showing an 11-year-old girl sobbing and begging for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to let her parents go following the Mississippi raids.
“I understand that the girl is upset and I get that. But her father committed a crime,” Morgan told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State on the Union.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, concluding a visit to Central America, said Sunday that the enforcement actions in Mississippi were “just another way to divide families” concocted by the administration.
Speaking in McAllen, Texas, after visiting nearby detention facilities, the California Democrat also said the recent ICE raids on migrant families “undermines the character of America.”
“We think that’s an immorality. And it’s strange they arrested the workers but did not charge the employers,” Pelosi said.
Following the raids last week, several local officials in the state criticized the operations, including Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who called them “dehumanizing and ineffective.”
William Truly Jr., the mayor of Canton, Mississippi, told reporters outside a processing plant owned by Peco Foods Inc. that he was concerned about the impact the arrests would have on the local economy and that his “main concern is now, what happens to the children?”