Hispanic Democrats: ICE raids designed to distract from Trump ties to Epstein

Hispanic Democrats: ICE raids designed to distract from Trump ties to Epstein

Hispanic Democrats on Friday hammered President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE over threatened immigration raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), arguing the president is attempting to distract voters from multiple scandals dogging his administration.

Chief among those, the lawmakers said, is the recent arrest of the wealthy New York financier Jeffrey Epstein, a former acquaintance of Trump's, on charges of sex trafficking involving underage girls.

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The Democrats also noted that former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE is expected to testify publicly before Congress later this month on the findings of his lengthy investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election — an investigation Trump has called a "witch hunt."

"This is a political ploy by this president," Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "He couldn't handle the heat that came with the fact that a child rapist was his close friend, and that Mueller is coming before the Judiciary Committee."

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), the No. 4 House Democrat, piled on, characterizing Epstein as "the president's friend [and] a child rapist." Luján also noted the resignation, just moments earlier, of Labor Secretary Alex AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Trump taps Scalia's son as Labor secretary pick The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE, who as a U.S. prosecutor in Florida had overseen a controversial plea deal that kept Epstein out of federal prison more than a decade ago.

"It's another distraction," Luján said. "The president constantly goes to this place when he wants us to turn away. And he's doing it be instilling fear in the American people."

"This is tragic; it's disgusting," Luján added.

ICE's immigration crackdown has been in the works for weeks — long before Epstein's recent arrest — but have been delayed amid internal squabbling between administration officials at odds over the wisdom of the strategy.

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Trump said on July 1 that immigration raids would begin after the July 4 holiday, but he did not specify a date. When reports emerged late this week that the raids would begin Sunday, Democrats said they were linked to the Epstein charges.

The president's ties to Epstein have come under renewed scrutiny since the financier was arrested Saturday for sex crimes targeting underage girls. Federal prosecutors unveiled charges on Monday, and Epstein later pleaded not guilty.

The pair ran in the same social circles in New York and Florida, and Trump told New York magazine in 2002 that he'd known Epstein "for 15 years."

"Terrific guy," he said at the time. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

Trump this week said their relationship ended years ago, though the nature of the split remains unclear. It was disagreeable enough that the president said Epstein was barred from Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla.

“I had a falling out with him a long time ago,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “I don’t think I’ve spoken to him in 15 years. I was not a fan. I was not a fan of his. That I can tell you. I was not a fan.”

Epstein was also acquainted with former President Clinton, who took at least four trips overseas on Epstein's private jet as part of his post-White House role heading the Clinton Foundation.

Trump's efforts to distance himself from Epstein have done little to satisfy many Democrats, who suspect the ties run deeper than the president has acknowledged — and that Trump is launching the immigration raids to keep the association out of the headlines.

"This is a distraction and politics at its worst," said Rep. Salud CarbajalSalud CarbajalHispanic Democrats: ICE raids designed to distract from Trump ties to Epstein Democrats wary of Trump's 'erratic' approach to Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems raise stakes with talk of 'constitutional crisis' MORE (D-Calif.).

The remarks came two days before ICE is expected to launch raids targeting thousands of immigrants without legal status in major cities across the country.

Trump and other supporters of the aggressive enforcement strategy say it's designed simply to uphold the nation's immigration laws by deporting those people who have missed court dates or been issued deportation orders already.

"The people that Ice will apprehend have already been ordered to be deported,” Trump tweeted last month.

“This means that they have run from the law and run from the courts. These are people that are supposed to go back to their home country. They broke the law by coming into the country, & now by staying."

Democrats, particularly members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), view the raids much differently, saying the roundups will have no impact on the border crisis or public safety, but are merely aimed at energizing Trump's conservative base ahead of the 2020 elections.

"These raids are not about homeland security and the safety of our communities," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Hispanic Democrats: ICE raids designed to distract from Trump ties to Epstein Top Democrats call for administration to rescind child migrant information sharing policy MORE (D-Calif.), who chairs the Appropriations Committee's homeland security subpanel. "They are about the president's reelection campaign, and pleasing his anti-immigrant base just to get applause and punchlines at his rallies."

Democrats are already up-in-arms over the administration's handling of the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, where reports of unsanitary conditions in migrant detention centers — combined with the deaths of a growing number of detainees — have sparked accusations that the administration is culturing a humanitarian crisis.

"I'm looking forward to the day that Americans finally stand up to this bully," said Rep. Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Hispanic Democrats: ICE raids designed to distract from Trump ties to Epstein Migrant children report sex assault, retaliation for protests at border facility MORE (D-Calif.), the only Central American immigrant in Congress. "I'm looking forward to the day where I can see President Trump behind bars for his crimes against humanity."

Updated at 2:23 p.m.