BALTIMORE, MD. — Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's 12:30 Report Overnight Regulation: Biz groups push reg reform in new Congress Dem urges Biden to run for DNC chair MORE on Thursday defended President Obama's deportation policies, telling scores of wary House Democrats that the administration did not conduct widespread raids on undocumented Central Americans, according to Democratic leaders in the room.
"What was being reported was there were widespread raids. There weren't raids," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters, relaying Biden's message to the lawmakers.
Democrats have been up in arms since the Homeland Security Department (DHS) announced earlier this month that it had arrested 121 newly arrived illegal immigrants deemed ineligible for asylum status — many of them women and children who came as part of the 2014 surge at the southern border.
A group of 146 House Democrats wrote to Obama urging the administration to halt the arrests and any scheduled deportations, saying they feared for the safety of the families returned to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which are rife with government corruption and drug-fueled violence.
Senate Democrats delivered a similar letter.
Pelosi emphasized that she shares the concerns of the Democrats critical of the administration's strategy.
"I associate myself with my colleagues who have expressed concern about this," she said.
But she also appeared to sympathize with the administration's position, noting that fewer than 100 of those detained have been deported.
"It's also a message to Central America that it's better if we could adjudicate these cases [so] these people can have their due process there," Pelosi said, echoing one of the administration's central arguments.
Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraBecerra: California ready to fight Trump administration House Dems to perform election autopsy Sanders vs. Trump: The battle of the bully pulpit MORE (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and another vocal critic of the DHS arrests, also suggested the administration is in a tough position.
"What the vice president made clear is that they're trying to do this in not just a constructive and legal way, but they're trying to do it in a humane way," Becerra said.
"He did stress the administration's position, that they feel that they have an obligation to carry out the laws, even within a broken immigration system, as best they can. And while there may be some differences exactly how it'd be best to do that, I think he was very passionate, and very constructive in explaining what the administration is trying to do given the constraints they have with a rebellious Congress."
The comments came during the Democrats' annual issues retreat in Baltimore, where Biden urged the lawmakers to embrace the party's values and victories on the campaign trail this year.
After an initial speech to a crowd that included reporters, Biden took questions from individual lawmakers, including the refugee question. Reporters were not in the room for that portion.
Becerra said Biden took the thorny refugee question last, in order to allow plenty of time to address it in detail.