By Rafael Bernal
April 04, 2017
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Tuesday and faced a barrage of questions about his agency’s enforcement of immigration measures.
The meeting was a long time coming, after Kelly canceled a scheduled get-together last month, preferring instead to meet a selection of House members picked by Republican leadership.
Kelly has since visited Capitol Hill on several occasions, testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee, meeting with House Republicans and Democrats separately, and with Senate Democrats.
The CHC was the first congressional body to invite Kelly to the Hill, arguing their constituents were the most affected by the administration’s immigration policies.
Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), who also attended the meeting with House Democrats, said Kelly’s performance then was a “zero out of 10,” compared to Tuesday’s “two or three out of 10.”
The hour-long meeting mostly focused on internal enforcement — how Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers identify and apprehend deportable immigrants.
“The meeting today was about getting answers for our communities,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).
CHC members said they asked Kelly about ICE agents who might take matters into their own hands and pursue immigrants who are not technically considered priorities for deportation — and they were not satisfied with his answers.
“There was still some sidestepping,” said Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.).
Still, meeting attendants almost unanimously commended Kelly’s willingness to appear before them to discuss sensitive issues.
CHC Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) said there was “better dialogue between members and Secretary Kelly” than before, but still had doubts as to whether the group’s message was being received.
“Secretary Kelly tried much harder to hear us and to be more respectful that this is a meeting of a collective group about these issues,” said Lujan Grisham.
“I don’t think the secretary is ready to recognize the issues we are presenting, particularly about what’s happening on the ground with these ICE agents, that that’s legitimate information,” she added.
Members said they presented Kelly with cases of ICE agents targeting sensitive areas — schools, churches, community centers and other areas out of bounds for enforcement according to DHS regulations — but failed to get acceptance of potential wrongdoing by agents.
“There’s a sense that DHS leadership does not view this information as credible,” Lujan Grisham said.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) called Kelly’s denial of wrongdoing an “incredible reluctance on his part to accept that any of these cases are credible.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a former Marine like Kelly, pushed the secretary on how he would deal with ICE agents who overstepped their mandate.
“The concern is that you have a lot of ICE agents that feel they’ve finally been unleashed and are going to sensitive areas that under the directive of the president aren’t even allowed,” Gallego said after the meeting.
Gallego said he brought up the concern to Kelly and that his response was dismissive.
“He claims that everything that he has seen has shown that no one’s acted out of order, which I think is ridiculous. This is one of the largest departments in government; people act out of order all the time,” he said.
A DHS spokesman said the department can’t guarantee that agents won’t occasionally break protocol.
“We can never guarantee that there’s not one percent out there that’s doing things that they shouldn’t be doing,” said David Lapan, DHS deputy assistant secretary for media operations.
But Castro said there was also “productive dialogue” at the meeting, including Kelly’s openness to assign ICE agents body cameras, as suggested in a bill introduced last month by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.).
Most attendants lauded a pledge by Kelly to not use information from the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for enforcement purposes.
They cautioned the pledge was temporary — under current regulations, information given to the government by DACA recipients cannot be used against them unless they commit other crimes.
Still, attendants said Kelly assured them he would inform the group if a change in DACA regulations was forthcoming.
Lujan Grisham requested further meetings every six weeks to follow up on the administration’s enforcement measures.
“He did not say he would affirmatively, but he did not deny it. As I said, when he’s going to say ‘no,’ he doesn’t appear to have any trouble saying ‘no,'” she said.
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