© Greg Nash
A meeting between members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and the country's top immigration enforcement officer was canceled at the behest of Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and the White House, according to House Democrats.
The closed-door meeting, scheduled for Tuesday following a series of high-profile immigration raids, was canceled at the last minute.
"I will confirm that in my conversation with [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas] Holman, he made it clear to me that this decision came from higher up and I believe I’m accurately reflecting his statement when he said, ‘Kelly and the White House,’" said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), chairwoman of the CHC.
CHC members and other Democrats with a special interest in immigration were expected to ask Holman to produce specific data about people detained in ICE raids over the past two weeks, including why they were prioritized for removal.
A representative for ICE told The Hill the meeting had been canceled because the attendance had nearly tripled in size, forcing ICE to contact House leadership to coordinate a bipartisan meeting. But Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) didn't buy that explanation.
"Bullshit," said Napolitano.
Democrats at a press conference held to address the cancellation all agreed there is no House rule that requires meetings with administration officials of a certain size be cleared by leadership.
"Unless it's a new Trump rule," said Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.)
Lujan Grisham said Holman had confirmed to her that ICE reached out to House leadership to request the bipartisan meeting, tentatively scheduled for later this week.
Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen later confirmed the decision to postpone the meeting had been taken because of the growing number of attendants.
“ICE leadership agreed to meet with six Democratic Members of Congress who signed a request on Friday, February 10, with the purpose of updating them on ICE’s recent enforcement operations. 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. ICE looks forward to sharing information on its enforcement operations and how they are humanely and professionally enforcing U.S. immigration law,” said Christensen
Still, Democrats said they were "more than disappointed" by the decision to cancel Tuesday's meeting, which they saw as an opportunity to provide clarity to immigrant constituencies in panic over the changes in immigration enforcement.
"It’s disappointing that we’re having this press conference. We hoped to have a press conference to express further clarification as to what ICE is doing," said Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, "and instead we’re left in the lurch here and I’m being told they want to have a bipartisan meeting."
Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis GutierrezArmy vet slated for deportation over drug charges Congressman handcuffed by police after refusing to leave ICE office Despite tensions, Mexico engages with Trump administration MORE (D-Ill.), long a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, warned that the Trump administration's aggressive immigration tactics would eventually backfire.
"It is really immoral to divide and destroy families, especially to make cheap, cowardly, political points at the expense of those families. Yeah, you lost in court, but you’re going to lose in the most important court, the court of public opinion," said Gutierrez.
Rep. Nannette Diaz-Barragan (D-Calif.) said ICE agents in her Los Angeles-area district confirmed to her people who had not committed crimes had been arrested.
"I want answers because my constituents in particular are getting picked up," said Diaz-Barragan.
Trump's executive orders on immigration expanded the definition of criminality for immigration cases and the rules for considering an immigrant a deportation priority.
"The definition in the executive order broadens the concept of crime in an amazing way," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
"If you did an act that would be considered a crime, you would be a target for enforcement. Well, what does that mean?"
Lujan Grisham said the group wasn't opposed to a larger, bipartisan meeting, but a meeting with the enforcement agencies directly targeting its constituency was the CHC's right.
"The request to have the meeting was to get real information, data about who was apprehended, who were the targets, where and confirm that information with our constituents for several reasons, but not the least of which is to make sure we’re following the law, that we’re clear people are getting due process, that they know their rights and in effect that we’re not causing, which we are, fear and panic in our communities," she said.
This post was updated at 7:31 p.m. to reflect the Department of Homeland Security's statement on the postponement.
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