Mexican man dies in Border Patrol custody
Several Hispanic Dems denied entry to meeting with ICE
Two members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) were asked to leave a meeting between lawmakers and the country's top immigration enforcement official Thursday.
Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Norma Torres (D-Calif.) were asked to leave the room, while several other members of the CHC were not allowed into the meeting with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting Director Tom Homan.
The meeting was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but ICE canceled, saying too many attendants had signed up. ICE then coordinated with House leadership, setting up a bipartisan meeting with a limited guest list.
Several Democrats, including House and CHC leadership, did attend the meeting.
Gutiérrez was the first to be asked to leave. Outside the room, he met Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), who had not been allowed in.
"I was expecting to get let in. We're the ones who were asking for this meeting, now we've been barred from the meeting," said Vargas. "I want to know what they're doing, and now we've been barred from this meeting that we called for."
Vargas, a former member of the Jesuit order, then led a prayer with Gutiérrez and Napolitano. Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) arrived and joined the prayer circle.
Gutiérrez said Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) spokeswoman had asked him to leave the room. Ryan was not at the meeting.
"It was the Speaker's staff that came to me, and I know her very, very well, and she said she was speaking on behalf of the Speaker, that there were a limited number of seats," Gutiérrez said.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) asked Torres to leave after Gutiérrez had been ejected. She asked him to reconsider given the importance of immigration issues to her community, but he declined. She left visibly upset, a Democratic aide said.
"I was asked to leave, and I was told that if we would like to have a meeting with ICE, that we need to go with the leadership of the majority party here and ask them to schedule a meeting and ask them to schedule a meeting for us with ICE," Torres told her colleagues waiting outside the room, who were also joined by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).
Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) said later: "Oh my God! That room is big enough. They have not filled it to capacity."
Several Democrats remained in the meeting: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), and CHC members Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.), the caucus chairwoman, Joaquín Castro (Texas), Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.) and Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.). Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.), and John Conyers (Mich.) were also in attendance.
Republicans sent Goodlatte and Reps. Raúl Labrador (Idaho), John Carter (Texas), David Valadao (Calif.) and Michael McCaul (Texas).
Inside the meeting, Democrats complained about the closed-door policy.
"I've never been in a meeting where an agency can designate who can attend," said Pelosi, according to an aide.
Jennifer Elzea, an ICE spokeswoman, told The Hill in an email that Homan informed the bipartisan group, "hosted by the office of Speaker Paul Ryan," of ICE's "recent successful enforcement operations."
"Mr. Homan emphasized that ICE does not conduct arrests indiscriminately and does not establish checkpoints; rather, the agency's deportation officers target pre-identified individuals for arrest at specific locations based on law enforcement leads," Elzea said.
Lujan Grisham said Homan told the group that the agency has interpreted new guidance from the White House to mean that every one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country could be removed at any time. She characterized the comment as a "chilling" shift in the federal approach to immigration enforcement.
Trump's recent executive order on immigration expands the definition of criminal alien to include people who've entered the country without authorization, previously a misdemeanor offense.
"He confirmed that, given the shift, given the discretion allowed in the executive order ... it could include everyone," she said. "They didn't say they were going to do it. He said they could do it - everyone's at risk."
Republicans said the meeting was productive and fulfilled its goals.
"The Speaker's office organized a small bipartisan briefing that was, at the request of [the Department of Homeland Security], limited to members with jurisdictional interests in immigration enforcement," said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan.
"Members of the CHC expressed interest in attending, and to accommodate the request, we welcomed the chair of the CHC [Lujan Grisham] to join on behalf of the other members. We are confident that the CHC chair is capable of representing the views of her caucus, and this arrangement was made very clear to the CHC ahead of time."
Labrador said Democrats shouldn't complain about being left out.
"I don't get invited to meetings all the time, and I don't complain about it. I'm a grownup about it," he said after the meeting.
But CHC members left outside said the exclusion kept them from demanding information relevant to their constituents.
"By refusing me access to information, they are essentially stealing from my constituents the right to be represented," Torres said at the impromptu press conference.
Gutiérrez said they were proud of CHC leadership representing them in the meeting.
"They're in there fighting for us. We're very proud of Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership; they're in there fighting for us," he said. "We sent them in there, Whip Hoyer and all of them - we sent them in there to fight for us. Now we're gonna stand outside the room."
Immediately after the meeting ended, Democrats held a formal press conference.
Many Democrats had been highly critical of President Obama's deportation approach, which they considered too strict. Just four weeks into the Trump administration, those same lawmakers appear somewhat traumatized in the recognition that enforcement is likely to get even tougher under the new White House.
"It was hard to not leave that meeting and believe that the Trump administration is going to target as many immigrants as possible," Castro said. "The only hesitation they seemed to have was whether they would go after DACA recipients."
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is an Obama program designed to protect certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. Trump has not made clear whether he intends to do away with the policy.
"They are only constrained by the resources that they have," added Sánchez, former head of the CHC and current vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
Pelosi said the way the administration handled the meeting - first postponing Tuesday's gathering with the CHC, then refusing participation by certain Hispanic lawmakers - was "highly unusual."
"I've never seen anything like it," she said. "And hopefully never [will] again."
- Updated at 5:10 p.m.