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Hispanic House Democrats Blast ‘Dictatorial Shenanigans’ at Immigration Meeting

Posted on Feb 17, 2017

By Deirdre Fulton / Common Dreams

  Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., said he was barred from entering Thursday’s meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. (Rep. Juan Vargas / Twitter)

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Two members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Norma Torres (D-Calif.), said they were asked to leave a meeting Thursday between lawmakers and the top U.S. immigration official, while others said they were barred entry in the first place.

Gutiérrez and Torres both expressed incredulity after being kicked out of the meeting between lawmakers and acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Thomas Homan—one of them by an aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the other by a GOP lawmaker himself.

The meeting, requested by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss the recent uptick in immigration raids and detentions, was originally scheduled for Tuesday—but ICE canceled at the last minute, saying too many people had expressed interest in attending. The agency said Homan would meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers instead.

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Upon rescheduling, the Huffington Post reports, “ICE set the invite list for the meeting and initially excluded the entire Congressional Hispanic Caucus, according to aides from both parties, before agreeing to include a small number of members.”

Gutiérrez and Torres were not on the list. According to the HuffPost:

Even though they were not invited, Torres and Gutiérrez tried to enter the meeting and several other Hispanic Caucus members stood outside. Members said Gutiérrez was kicked out of the room first, and then Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) asked Torres to leave. Before she left, she asked ICE officials when she could get answers to questions about the raids. She said the officials did not answer; instead, Goodlatte told her that Republican leadership could get information to them.

“I speak English. I don’t need a translator,” Torres told reporters afterward. “My constituents elected me to represent them here. I should be able to participate and hear firsthand what ICE is saying and what ICE is doing in my communities.”

[House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi said at the meeting she had “never been in a meeting where an agency can designate who can attend” and that it was “highly unusual,” according to a Democratic aide in the room, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Outside the room, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) led a prayer circle among other lawmakers who had not been let into the meeting at all.

In a searing statement, Gutiérrez described the incident as “dictatorial shenanigans.”

“In 20-plus years, I have never heard of the Republicans controlling what meetings Democrats can have with officials of the executive branch and never had a staffer ask me to leave a meeting to which I am entitled to attend,” he declared. “My constituents have questions about who is being targeted by ICE, which DREAMers [...] they are targeting for deportation, which victims of domestic violence ICE is deporting, which immigrants at church shelters are being targeted. We know the statements by [President Donald] Trump about targeting criminals is a lie, but we were hoping someone could give us the truth or any information at all.”

“The new mass deportation executive orders are unprecedented, but so are the lengths to which the Speaker and chairman Goodlatte are going to control the information being disseminated to Members of Congress,” Gutiérrez continued.

“I expect such dictatorial shenanigans from the Trump administration,” he said, “but not from competent, compassionate legislators like Speaker Ryan or from legislators like Bob Goodlatte. Do they have ear pieces feeding them orders from President [Steve] Bannon or the others making decisions in the White House?” (Gutierrez was referring to suggestions that it is the White House chief strategist who is really in charge.)

Torres similarly told the Riverside, California Press-Enterprise in an email: “Today was just further proof that the Trump administration doesn’t want to hear from people who disagree with them or don’t fit with their version of reality.”

Meanwhile, those Democrats who did get to attend the meeting were left feeling more alarmed than ever.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Hispanic Caucus chair Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), “said Homan told her Monday that the deportations reflected a ‘broader effort’ than just targeting felons or violent criminals.”

“He confirmed…that unlike other actions in the past that this is a broader effort that can be aimed at anyone that has a criminal record or is suspected of criminal activity, which meets the language of course of broader discretion to Homeland Security and I’m very concerned about that because that’s a shift,” Grisham told the paper.

“In effect, every undocumented person in America is now vulnerable to arrest and removal as a result of the president’s orders,” added Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) in a statement. “These orders are creating fear and terror in our immigrant communities, and that is completely unacceptable.”

And fellow caucus member Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said that “after attending the ICE meeting it’s hard not to conclude that President Trump has started his mass deportation plan.”

He told reporters: “It was hard to not leave that meeting and believe that the Trump administration is going to target as many immigrants as possible.”

[Truthdig editor’s note: The Common Dreams article’s text below has been edited slightly and has been expanded to include more information about the AP memo being reported on.] The Associated Press reported Friday morning that the Trump administration had “considered a proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, according to a draft memo” obtained by the news service. AP writes:

Staffers in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said they had been told by colleagues in two DHS departments that the proposal was still being considered as recently as Feb. 10. A DHS official described the document as a very early draft that was not seriously considered and never brought to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly for approval.

The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana. The document can be accessed at http://apne.ws/2l1Dj0k.

Four states that border on Mexico were included in the proposal — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — but it also encompasses seven states contiguous to those four — Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday the document was “not a White House document.”

“There is no effort to do what is potentially suggested,” he said. Spicer called the AP report “100 percent not true,” adding that there was “no effort at all to utilize the National Guard to round up unauthorized immigrants.”

The AP had sought comment from the White House beginning Thursday and DHS earlier Friday and had not received a response from either. ...

The memo was addressed to the then-acting heads of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. ...

Watch members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus discuss Thursday’s meeting and the ICE raids below. (The first few seconds of the audio track are in Spanish.)


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