By Seung Min Kim and Lauren French
January 7, 2016
Two top Obama administration officials met with several House Democrats Thursday, amid rising anger on Capitol Hill over a series of controversial raids targeting immigrants who have been ordered deported from the United States.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi convened the meeting with Cecilia Munoz, the White House domestic policy director, and Alejandro Mayorkas, the deputy secretary of Homeland Security, on Thursday afternoon, according to three Democratic sources.
Lawmakers attending the meeting included many members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — who are especially upset about the raids — leadership, and influential ranking members.
During the meeting, held in Pelosi's office with Munoz, Mayorkas and about 15 House Democrats, lawmakers pressed the administration officials on why they had taken such an aggressive approach to removing 121 immigrants here illegally, and why they had gotten no advance warning of the tough new tactics. The raids occurred over the weekend, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has indicated the operations would continue as needed, arguing that immigration agents were only targeting immigrants who had exhausted all legal options.
But advocates and some Democratic lawmakers have fought back against the raids. And lawyers won a small victory on behalf of the immigrants earlier this week, when the Board of Immigration Appeals temporarily stopped the deportations of 12 immigrants detained in the raids, raising questions about whether the migrants had proper legal representation — another point raised by House Democrats during the Thursday meeting.
"What I said to [Munoz] is, I said, 'Think about it a moment. Donald Trump is praising your public policy on immigration," Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said. "'You should need no further evidence of how wrong it is.'"
Munoz indicated during the meeting that the administration executed the raids because of the recent surge in the numbers of people coming here illegally, primarily from Central America, according to Gutierrez. The spike had been especially worrisome to administration officials because illegal migration tends to slow in colder months, but the numbers late last year were rising dramatically.
Separately, the Congressional Progressive Caucus wrote to President Barack Obama on Thursday, urging him to halt the operations and calling the policy "inhumane."
"We ask that your administration end these immigration raids immediately," said the letter, written by caucus co-chairs Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota. "This practice is immoral and does not reflect who we are as a country."
Gutierrez, and Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) had gone to Pelosi on Wednesday with worries about the raids, and the House minority leader quickly arranged the meeting with administration officials the next day. Pelosi herself expressed concerns earlier Thursday, when she warned that "mortal danger is not an exaggeration" of what some of the immigrants would face in their home countries.
"I think we made the concerns clear and we'll see," said Lofgren, the top Democrat on the House panel overseeing immigration. "People are staying home for work out of fear ... it needs to be analyzed."
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