By Dierdre Walsh
January 8, 2016
Leading Democrats on Capitol Hill are fuming at the White House after federal law enforcement launched raids deporting families back to unstable Central American countries over the Christmas holidays, and are demanding a face-to-face meeting with President Barack Obama.
Top administration officials -- Cecilia Munoz, the director of the Domestic Policy Council and Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas -- met with members of the Hispanic Caucus, along with top House Democratic leaders on Thursday. Many lawmakers vented about the decision to round up families who were gathered to celebrate on Christmas Eve and blasted the administration's enforcement approach as uneven, and complained no one reached out to them. They said members of their communities are traumatized and scared, and in some cities, there are protests growing about what advocacy groups view as heavy handed federal law enforcement tactics.
"This is not an immigration issue, it's a refugee issue. Deporting these refugees essentially means that we are sending them back to their home countries to face possible death," Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said at a press conference Friday about operations by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
One after another, Hispanic Caucus members called on the President and the administration to cease ICE raids and offer temporary protected status to affected families from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois ripped what he said was a double standard of federal law enforcement agencies involved in a stand-off over federal land issues in one part of the country, versus those involved in carrying out deportation raids.
"There are armed men who take over public lands in Oregon and have press conferences as they use their guns and defy the American government. And what's our response? 'Well, let's talk to them.' But when women come fleeing drug dealers and gangbangers who control their very lives? Then we say, 'let's take armed men to go into their homes' -- on Christmas Eve!" an exasperated Gutierrez said Friday.
"The President said we were going to focus on felons, not families," Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, said. "Everybody understands focusing on felons. But focusing on families is not reflective of our values."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid also warned the administration on Thursday at an event in his home state of Nevada with immigrant families that the administration needs to give those seeking asylum the chance to make their case to a judge.
"These parents and children should not be rounded up in the middle of the night, still in their pajamas, and sent back to some of the most dangerous places in the world," Reid said.
A senior administration official defended the raids, noting that the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, said earlier this week that in addition to focusing on national security threats at the border, agencies would be pursuing those who entered the U.S. illegally after January 2014.
"All of those arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this past weekend were adults and their children who were apprehended after May 1, 2014, while illegally crossing the southern border. All have been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court, and those who were removed have exhausted appropriate legal remedies, and have no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws," the official told CNN.
Democrats weren't only angry with the administration, they also blamed Republicans in Congress for failing to work on comprehensive immigration reform, and said that contributed to the situation at the southern border.
But Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who has supported bipartisan immigration efforts, called the ICE raids "another symptom of a broken immigration system," and took a swipe at the President for the situation. "A big part of the responsibility has to lie with the president who has never taken this issue seriously and continues to not really care too much about how it affects our economy, our national security and millions of families in the United States."
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