The Obama administration already is facing a backlash from the Democratic presidential candidates over reported plans to launch deportation raids as early as next month.
The Washington Post first reported that the Department of Homeland Security is preparing to launch raids against hundreds of families who entered the U.S. illegally since last year and have been ordered to leave by an immigration judge.
The plan, according to the report, does not have final approval and has been a subject of controversy inside the administration.
But within hours of the report’s publication, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley blasted the idea.
“I am very disturbed by reports that the government may commence raids to deport families who have fled here to escape violence in Central America,” Sanders said. “We need to take steps to protect children and families seeking refuge here, not cast them out."
O’Malley said the plan would be “at odds” with America’s character, adding: “We must put an end to these mindless deportations.”
The statements implicitly put some pressure on field front-runner Hillary Clinton to take a position – and her campaign did put out a brief statement Thursday afternoon echoing those concerns.
"Hillary Clinton has real concerns about these reports, especially as families are coming together during this holiday season,” campaign spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said. “She believes it is critical that everyone has a full and fair hearing, and that our country provides refuge to those that need it. And we should be guided by a spirit of humanity and generosity as we approach these issues."
The reaction underscores the stiff resistance DHS is sure to face from Democratic lawmakers and Latino advocacy groups should it pursue the plan next year. The Post reported that the plans are driven in part by a court decision ordering DHS to start releasing families from detention centers.
But the reports also follow immense criticism from Republicans about the administration’s allegedly lax enforcement policies, a topic that has helped fuel Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s rise in the GOP primary race.
Indeed, Trump took credit on Twitter for the reported deportation raid plans.
Wow, because of the pressure put on by me, ICE TO LAUNCH LARGE SCALE DEPORTATION RAIDS. It's about time!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2015
Just days earlier, the administration disclosed a dramatic four-year decline in deportations. They dropped from more than 409,000 in 2012 to just 235,000 in fiscal 2015.
The numbers represent the fewest deportations since 2006.
Critics pointed to President Obama’s executive actions and other policies to explain the drop.
"It's a way of doing a pseudo-amnesty without legislatively doing an amnesty,” said Claude Arnold, former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in charge of Southern California, referring to those policies.
Fox News’ Ed Henry and William La Jeunesse contributed to this report.