Frustration with White House builds in Hispanic caucus

Note to the White House: Hispanic Democrats want to talk.

The lawmakers, increasingly angry with President Obama’s deportation of women and children from Central America, say the administration is not only ignoring their pleas to stop the raids, but have also kept them out of the loop as the operations evolve.

{mosads}The Hispanic Caucus members have pressed the White House for months to shift the focus of the arrests, provide stouter legal protections for the asylum seekers and meet with Democrats to hear their concerns. But the pleas have fallen largely on deaf ears, the lawmakers say, and their frustrations are boiling up again as the Homeland Security Department is eying a new phase of round ups in the weeks to come.

“One of the things that’s most frustrating is … the lack of contact, the lack of a heads up,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D), a CHC member from Arizona, said Thursday.

“If you’re going to do this you should work on the execution of it in terms of a communication plan,” Gallego said. “Because it really does matter.”

Asked whose responsibility it is to provide such notice, Gallego said, “Somebody –– somebody in the executive branch.”

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), said the lack of outreach has prevented CHC members from educating constituents about the nature of the raids, stirring “widespread fear” in immigrant communities, even among legal residents who won’t be targeted.

“We’ve asked for a meeting with the president and we have not yet met,” she said.

Sanchez noted that top administration officials, including Vice President Biden, have recently visited Central America in search of solutions, and she credited the vice president for “very vigorously pushing the idea of in-country processing” that might stem the migrations to the southern border.

But she was quick to add that, on the issue of how to handle the families once they arrive, the gulf remains. 

“We need to treat this crisis as something similar to the Syrian refugee crisis,” she said.

“Clearly we’re very loud advocates for our position and we wish the administration would see things from our perspective. 

“It’s a little frustrating that that’s not happening.”

The White House is pushing back against claims that it’s been incommunicado.

An official said Friday that “senior leadership” at both Homeland Security and the White House have “engaged in regular communication and in-depth briefings with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus” on immigration policy, while Obama and Biden “both spoke directly to the entire Democratic Caucus about this important issue.”

“As is standard practice with any law enforcement decisions, the details about potential or pending law enforcement actions are not discussed prior to those action being taken, but the administration has had serious and sustained outreach with the CHC and other interested members,” the official said in an email.

Charges that the administration has left Democrats in the dark on specific policy matters have dogged Obama throughout his presidency, but the deportation of Central American families has led to particularly harsh criticism from his closest allies on Capitol Hill. 

DHS launched its enforcement operations in January, rounding up 121 immigrants whose asylum claims had been denied –– most of them women and children who’d arrived from Central America in recent years –– and readying them for deportation. More recently, the administration has said it will continue those arrests into the summer. In both cases, the Democrats first heard the news from the press.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a vocal critic of the deportations, offered a theory for why the administration is using the media to deliver its message.  

“So that you could come and talk to me, ask me about it –– and Univision can ask me about it, and Telemundo can ask me –– I can condemn it, and then it can become the top of the news in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala,” he said. “Because this administration doesn’t have a clear policy.”

The deportations have become a presidential campaign issue, and both Democratic hopefuls –– former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) –– have hammered Obama’s strategy with warnings that those affected will be returned to harm’s way in the violence-plagued Northern Triangle countries of Central America.

Most of the CHC members are Clinton supporters, and they seem eager to shift the attention away from the immigration policies of the lame-duck Obama administration to focus instead on Clinton’s platform.

“She has pushed back very strongly against the administration’s policies and continuing those kinds of removals,” Sanchez said.

That focus on the Obama/Clinton divide is helping the Democrats downplay any negative effects the current deportations might have on the party’s efforts to energize Latino voters ahead of November’s general elections. Obama had won roughly 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in the last two cycles, and they want to keep that advantage this year even as many advocates are warning that the deportations will erode it. 

Sanchez predicted any negative impact will be “very minimal” –– “This administration is not up for reelection,” she said –– and Gallego said the bombastic statements from Donald Trump, the likely GOP nominee, have already alienated Hispanics in irreversible ways that will only benefit the Democrats.

“There [are] no soft edges when it comes to Trump and the Latino community,” Gallego said. “He’s going to do worse than [Mitt] Romney.”

The administration has repeatedly defended its policies, saying it’s simply adhering to guidelines adopted in November 2014, which aim to focus limited resources on deporting criminals and new arrivals. 

“DHS has stressed that these operations are limited to those who were apprehended at the border after January 1, 2014, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, and have no pending appeal or pending claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws,” the White House official said Friday.

Under those guidelines, the administration is anticipating “the deportation numbers would continue to go up,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier this month.

Such statements have only further angered congressional Democrats, who say the administration needs to focus on a more robust hemispheric strategy for absorbing refugees and stabilizing the Northern Triangle –– problems the deportations won’t solve.

Gutierrez suggested the administration simply hasn’t treated Central Americans with the same compassion it has other groups of people.

“Barack Obama –– I got to give him credit. Transgender in the schools: on it. Relationship with Cuba: on it. New communication with Iran: on it. … More money for Syrian refugees and to work with Europe: on it. … I mean, I love this president,” Gutierrez said. “But when it comes to our immigrants, in this hemisphere? Why is it when it comes to us, he fundamentally has a deficit?”


Tags Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Luis Gutierrez

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