House Democrats left a bipartisan meeting Thursday with the head of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement baffled — not just by what they heard but by the fact that some of their colleagues were not allowed to attend the meeting.
ICE Acting Director Thomas D. Homan met with a bipartisan group of House lawmakers for about an hour Thursday to discuss the agency’s recent raids that have led to the apprehension of at least 683 undocumented immigrants. That was the number ICE provided during the meeting, but Democrats contend the number is actually higher.
The meeting came at the request of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and was originally scheduled to happen two days ago, House Minority Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday after the meeting.
“They canceled the meeting and said, ‘We’re just having meetings that were bipartisan.’ This was to be that meeting,” Pelosi said. “But the sad part of that was that the administration would determine which Democrats would be invited to the meeting. This was highly unusual.”
Pelosi said no members of the CHC were initially invited to the rescheduled meeting but Democrats worked to ensure they would have at least some representation.
Ordinarily, if there are time or space constraints for a meeting, the speaker would provide a set number of members from each party that could attend and then the party leaders would choose their own attendees, Pelosi said.
“This meeting was unique,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it — only one like it and hopefully never again.”
CHC Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham showed up to the meeting Thursday with Illinois Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez – who was not on the invite list — thinking he would be granted the courtesy to attend as her guest, but he was turned away. Lujan Grisham and Gutierrez said they believe it was an aide from the speaker’s office who refused Gutierrez entry.
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said that the Department of Homeland Security asked the speaker’s office to organize a small bipartisan briefing and to limit attendees to members with jurisdictional interests in immigration enforcement.
“Members of the CHC expressed interest in attending, and to accommodate the request, we welcomed the chair of the CHC to join on behalf of the other members,” Strong said. “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.”
Regarding the content of the meeting, Strong deferred to ICE.
Rep. Norma Torres of California also showed up and was turned away, a CHC spokesman said.
Lujan Grisham said never in her career has she seen a member, let alone a chair of a major Democratic caucus, request a meeting and then have control over who can attend the meeting directed to GOP leadership. The refusal to let CHC members attend when it was the caucus who had requested the meeting “sends a chilling message,” she said.
Also chilling, the Democrats said, was the message they got from the meeting itself. The attendees said that Homan said ICE has the authority to target all 11 million undocumented immigrants for removal from the country under President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order but that the agency does not have the resources to do that.
“Under the new executive order, the universe of people who are priority for removal is greatly expanded and in fact I believe that all would be at risk,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Linda Sanchez of California said.
ICE “said that we can and should expect many more arrests and removals this year,” she added.
If there was one positive thing from the meeting, Sanchez said, “it was a commitment by acting director Homan that if there were any verified incidents of ICE abuse that he would report those to the inspector general.”
Homan also said he would meet with the entire Hispanic Caucus to go over the data they requested, Lujan Grishman said.
The initial data Homan provided Thursday was that 683 undocumented immigrants were apprehended across five cities, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, the Democrats said. However, there have been additional arrests in cities like Denver that were not included in the data ICE provided, they said.
The list of charges for those apprehended includes traffic offenses and trespassing, “as well as some serious crimes that no one would disagree about,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California said.
Among the 683 apprehended, 176 were listed as non-criminal, the Democrats said. ICE did not provide data on the number of recipients of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that were apprehended but the officials noted that DACA recipients were not targeted and were only picked up for criminal violations.
“It was hard to not leave that meeting and believe that the Trump administration is going to target as many immigrants as possible,” CHC 1st Vice Chairman Joaquín Castro of Texas said. “The only hesitation they seem to have is whether they would go after DACA recipients.”