WASHINGTON ― The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement canceled a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus hours before it was set to occur on Tuesday ― avoiding what would have likely been a tense summit with lawmakers who are furious over recent deportation raids.
Congressional sources said that ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan would no longer attend a meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
An ICE official said Homan canceled because the Hispanic Caucus tried to expand the number of attendees, and doing that without making the meeting bipartisan would break congressional rules. Later, House staffers said ICE officials plan to hold a briefing on Thursday for members of both parties.
Democratic members who planned to attend the meeting on Tuesday were still incensed that the ICE director backed out ― and that officials gave an excuse about congressional rules that they said isn’t accurate.
“Bullshit,” Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference when asked about ICE’s explanation for canceling. She and other members said they knew of no such rule and that administration officials frequently meet with non-bipartisan groups of members.
The Democratic members said people in their communities are terrified about deportation actions that took place across the country last week. ICE officers arrested more than 680 immigrants in multiple states from Monday to Friday, officials said on Monday.
ICE claimed the arrests were part of “routine” and “targeted” enforcement actions, but immigrant rights advocates say they were more expansive than normal.
About 75 percent of those detained had criminal records, according to ICE, although the agency did not break down the types of crimes and how many were solely immigration-related. Democratic members said they asked ICE for that information to know how expansive the deportation efforts were.
Democrats are also worried that undocumented immigrants are being arrested as “collateral,” even if they aren’t ICE’s initial targets. The agency has not provided those figures.
“These raids have struck fear in the hearts of the immigrant community as many fear that President Trump’s promised ‘deportation force’ is now in full-swing.”
Under President Barack Obama, people convicted for crimes tied to being in the U.S. without authorization ― using a fake Social Security number, for example ― were deemed less of a priority for deportation than people who committed more serious crimes. President Donald Trump’s recent immigration executive order, on the other hand, makes nearly any undocumented immigrant a removal priority.
Trump said Monday that he was following through on a campaign promise to drive out “the bad ones” among the undocumented population. “We’re getting them out, and that’s what I said I would do,” he said. “I’m just doing what I said I would do when we won by a very, very large Electoral College vote.”
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) said Homan told her last week’s actions were part of a broader effort that could be aimed at anyone with a criminal record or suspected of criminal activity.
In a letter to Homan on Friday, she and several other House Democratic members said they had “serious concerns” about the raids.
“These raids have struck fear in the hearts of the immigrant community as many fear that President Trump’s promised ‘deportation force’ is now in full-swing,” the letter read. “It is critical that we meet with you in person immediately to discuss the impact these raids have had on our communities as well as obtain clarifying guidance on how ICE policies will differ from the last administration.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said Democrats are concerned that ICE was sweeping up otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants in addition to dangerous criminals, whom they do support removing from the country.
“[Obama] had a priority to deport dangerous criminals and we didn’t disagree with that,” Lofgren said Tuesday. “Their further priority was if you found a dangerous criminal but the nanny lived next door and she was undocumented, you didn’t pick up the nanny also.”
Homan’s cancellation was another indication that “the Trump administration does not seem to believe in transparency or sharing information with Members of Congress,” said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who signed onto the letter, in an emailed statement Tuesday.
“The Trump people are clearly ducking accountability and oversight,” he said. “This is unacceptable as rumors and fear circulate within cities and towns across America and ICE is too busy to meet with the CHC or key Democratic leaders? That just doesn’t fly.”
Later on Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said that ICE leadership had originally agreed to meet with six Democratic members of Congress.
“Because the attendees list grew substantially, DHS reached out to the House leadership staff to arrange a bipartisan, in-depth briefing, which the Speaker’s office arranged and scheduled for Thursday of this week,” Christensen said. “ICE looks forward to sharing information on its enforcement operations and how they are humanely and professionally enforcing U.S. immigration law.”
Read Democrats’ full letter to ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan below.
Dear Mr. Homan,
We have serious concerns about the recent nationwide U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids that resulted in the detention and possible deportation of several individuals. These raids have struck fear in the hearts of the immigrant community as many fear that President Trump’s promised “deportation force” is now in full-swing.
It is critical that we meet with you in person immediately to discuss the impact these raids have had on our communities as well as obtain clarifying guidance on how ICE policies will differ from the last Administration. Please contact our offices to set up a time to meet at a location of your convenience on or before COB on Wednesday, February 15, 2017.
Our constituents have contacted us requesting information and clarity regarding these enforcement activities as well as ICE’s interpretation of the enforcement priorities as listed in the Executive Order. As you are well aware, these priorities are vast enough to label any undocumented individual as a “priority” for removal. We understand that ICE has provided clarifying guidance on this Order in the form of a memo. It is critical that our constituents have clarity on ICE operations and we request a copy of this memo. Without this guidance, our communities will be paralyzed as students will remain home from school, parents will be afraid to leave children alone and our local economies will be irreparably damaged.
Immediately after hearing about the enforcement activities occurring in California, Member offices contacted Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE to get information regarding the individuals that were detained and the number of families affected. However, neither ICE nor DHS has yet to provide our offices with any concrete data pertaining to these enforcement activities. In advance of this meeting, we would like to request specific information about this targeted operation, the location of the raids, the number of individuals detained and deported, the number of parents of minor children that were apprehended, the reason for the apprehension as well as the number of people apprehended with criminal convictions and the types of criminal convictions.
We look forward to meeting with you in short order so that we can have an open and candid discussion regarding changes ICE has made regarding enforcement and removal activities and how this may impact immigrant communities.
Thank you for your prompt consideration of this important matter.
Sincerely,Michelle Lujan GrishamChairwomanCongressional Hispanic CaucusZoe LofgrenRanking MemberSubcommittee on Immigration and Border SecurityJohn Conyers
House Judiciary CommitteeLuis GutierrezTask Force Chair on Immigration and Border IssuesCongressional Hispanic CaucusJudy ChuChairwoman
Congressional Asian Pacific Americans CaucusLucille Roybal-Allard
Member of Congress
The story has been updated with comment from Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen.