US President Donald Trump has said he is delaying a nationwide sweep to deport undocumented immigrants in the US as he seeks compromise with Democratic leaders on immigration issues.
He said in a tweet Saturday he would delay for two weeks to give legislators time to discuss border solutions.
The move came after US House of Representatives’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump on Friday asking him to cancel the operation.
Three administration officials told The Associated Press news agency the operation had been cancelled because details had leaked in the media and officer safety could be jeopardised.
The officials were not authorised to speak publicly on the operation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The operation was expected to begin Sunday and would have targeted people with final orders of removal, including families whose immigration cases had been fast-tracked by judges.
Trump earlier this week tweeted that an operation was upcoming and said the agency would begin to remove “millions” of people.
Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, had urged religious leaders earlier on Saturday to pressure Trump to cancel the raids, which were expected to target families in up to 10 US cities on Sunday.
Pelosi said in a release the expected raids would “inject terror into our communities” and tear families apart.
“The President’s action makes no distinction between a status violation and committing a serious crime,” Pelosi said, urging faith-based and other leaders to convey to Trump the value of US refugee resettlement programmes.
Trump, a Republican, told reporters on Saturday that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency was focused on getting the transnational street gang MS-13 out of the US.
When he later announced a delay in the raids, he said if no compromise with Democrats was reached, “Deportations start!”
Pelosi responded to Trump’s announcement with her own tweet, saying: “Mr. President, delay is welcome. Time is needed for comprehensive immigration reform. Families belong together.”
Many asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador cite gang violence – driven largely by groups like MS-13 – as the reason they came to the US for refuge.
Mark Morgan, acting director of ICE, said this week his agency would target for deportation families that had received a removal order from a US immigration court.
The operation was expected to target up to 2,000 families facing deportation orders in as many as 10 US cities, including Houston, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
Trump wrote on Twitter earlier on Saturday that ICE would apprehend people who “are supposed to go back to their home country”.
The cancellation was another signal of the difficulty the administration is facing managing the border crisis.
Legislators are mulling whether to give $4.6bn in emergency funding to help border agencies struggling to manage a growing number of migrants crossing the border. The measure passed committee on a 30-1 vote.
The bipartisan vote likely means that the Senate will take the lead in writing the legislation, which needs to pass into law before the House and Senate leave for vacation next week.
The number of people crossing the US-Mexico border has risen dramatically under Trump, despite his tough rhetoric and hardline policies.