By Seung Min Kim and Lauren French
January 28, 2016
The Obama administration is continuing to defend raids targeting immigrants in the United States illegally in a new letter to Capitol Hill, renewing frustration from Democratic lawmakers who have lashed out against the administration over the controversial strategy.
In a Jan. 27 letter to Democratic lawmakers, Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson stressed that for many of the women and children from Central America caught at the border, “the reality is that not all those … seek or successfully establish that they qualify for [humanitarian] relief.”
More than 140 House Democrats, as well as 22 of their Senate counterparts, have signed onto letters to the administration denouncing the raids and urging officials to take a different tack to stem the recent wave of illegal migration at the southern border.
“We will continue to conduct enforcement actions in line with existing laws and policies, including the apprehension and removal of individuals with final orders of removal who have exhausted or waived all appeals,” Kerry and Johnson wrote to lawmakers in the three-page letter, obtained by POLITICO. “The enforcement actions referenced in your letter are consistent with this approach.”
The administration has shown no signs of backing off the raids since they were disclosed in late December, and the first of the operations took place earlier this month. On Jan. 13, the administration said it would launch new efforts to expand access to the refugee admissions program for people from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — a move welcomed by Democrats and advocates, but one that did not ease their concerns about the raids.
“I’m certainly disappointed,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, who has called on the administration to halt the raids, said in an interview Thursday. “Let us deport everyone who is a danger to this country, but the notion of deporting people who are innocent, are no danger to this country, splitting up families, that should not be our policy.”
But there is little Democrats on Capitol Hill can do aside from continuing to press the administration. The issue arose during a private question-and-answer session with Vice President Joe Biden at the House Democratic retreat in Baltimore, when Biden stressed that the administration is allowed to prioritize how they enforce immigration laws and pushed back against the notion that these raids don't amount to "mass deportations," according to a source in the room.
Biden said the total number of immigrants already deported to their home countries was 67 out of the 121 swept up in the raids, although a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it was 77 people.
"He made it very clear that the president is trying to do this best with the broken immigration system," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said of Biden's remarks. "What the vice president made clear is that not only are they trying to do it in a constructive and legal [way], but also in a humane way."
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