WASHINGTON -- White House officials faced frustrated and upset Democrats on Thursday when they went to Capitol Hill to discuss deportation raids on mothers and children.
The raids, which have picked up at least 121 individuals, increased tensions between the Obama administration and champions of undocumented immigrants in Congress, who say the actions are inhumane and harmful to highly vulnerable people.
That's what they told White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Muñoz and Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a meeting that, according to one Democratic House aide, "went quite poorly" for the administration. Another aide briefed on the meeting called it tense, but not uncivil.
Democratic members told officials they were concerned that mothers and children weren't receiving enough due process, and should be treated as refugees, according to multiple aides with knowledge of the meeting. The raids are targeting families who came to the U.S. without authorization sometime after May 1, 2014, in a wave of women and children who said they were fleeing violence in Central America.
Members also told administration officials the actions were causing fear in the immigrant community as a whole, contradicting earlier efforts to focus deportation efforts on criminals.
"I think we made the concerns clear and we'll see," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), one of the attendees, told Politico after the meeting. "People are staying home for work out of fear ... it needs to be analyzed."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attended the meeting, along with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), a number of members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and other members involved in immigration matters. Pelosi criticized the raids earlier in the day, telling reporters she worried some families would be in danger if deported.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said earlier this week that the deportations fit the administration's priorities for removal -- priorities that many Democrats supported. He said in a statement that the 121 people picked up in the raids all received final deportation orders by a judge and qualified as recent arrivals to the U.S., one of the categories considered a priority.
He said at the time, as has been reiterated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other administration officials, that the individuals in question had no pending appeals or claims for relief, and had exhausted legal remedies to stay.
An administration official, who declined to be identified by name, confirmed that other officials briefed members of Congress on enforcement actions, noting that the number of border apprehensions of children and mothers is going up again.
"While we recognize the serious underlying conditions that cause some people to flee their home countries, at the same time we cannot allow our borders to be open to illegal migration," the official said. "Those who come here illegally will be sent home after being provided an opportunity to have their cases heard, consistent with our laws and values."
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