By Adrian Carrasquillo
June 22, 2017
At a private dinner with centrist Democrats last week, Donald Trump indicated he was sympathetic to the plight of military veterans who have been deported, before his staff quickly assured him that the issue is a complicated one.
“We should do something about this,” Trump said, according to sources familiar with the meeting attended by Democratic Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, Stephanie Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema. A staffer quickly told the president the issue is that the men subsequently committed crimes, which eventually led to their deportation.
Sources familiar with the dinner said Trump told Gonzalez that he should detail the issue to him in writing, to which Gonzalez responded that he had already sent the president two letters.
A White House official did not dispute details of the meeting.
“We typically do not comment on private meetings but we are aware of certain situations where a non-citizen who served in the U.S. Armed Forces was deported after committing serious crimes,” the official said.
In a letter to Trump, Gonzalez wrote that he appreciated the president’s interest in the deported veterans issue, “which would bring home our heroes.”
“These veterans fought for our country and many suffer PTSD caused by their service,” Gonzalez wrote. “I hope to work with you and your administration to create an executive order that stops the deportation of veterans who served in combat.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) has recently taken up the deported veterans issue in a major way, with Rep. Joaquin Castro organizing a visit to Tijuana, Mexico by a congressional delegation to meet with the veterans in early-June. On Tuesday, CHC chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and CHC leaders sent a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin to request a meeting on the issue.
BuzzFeed News has learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied a meeting request by the CHC to discuss immigration policy, where the issue of deported veterans was one the lawmakers wanted to raise. A spokesperson for the DOJ did not return a request for comment.
Democrats are also divided on how to approach the Trump administration on immigration issues. CHC members were particularly rankled that their colleagues — especially Gonzalez — went to dinner with the president and want Trump to apologize for his comments about Mexicans during the campaign or at least be confronted on the issue before engaging further with him.
“I find it amazing that after someone calls you a rapist, a drug-dealer and a murderer, you can just sit down with him and have dinner without him apologizing first,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez told BuzzFeed News. “To me, that seems like turning your back on the kids and the families who are in harm’s way.”
Gutierrez added that Trump is deporting people “left and right,” not just veterans.
“I don’t think you sit down and break bread with Trump until there is a cease fire,” he said. “The attorney general has refused to meet with the CHC, so I don’t see avenues for productive dialogue until this administration changes its tune.”
Another Democrat was more forgiving of Gonzalez accepting the dinner with Trump but criticized how it was approached.
“The president of the United States invites you to dinner at the White House, you go,” said one Texas Democrat. “But there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle it. The meeting made him look weak, it made him look like the president was using him, and he didn’t help himself with that fucking letter.”
Trump, who likes the idea of reaching out to Democrats in theory, has not had meaningful success doing so. The issue partly appears to be that while he may appear momentarily open and helpful on some issues, he can not help himself from taking shots at Democrats, either. A source familiar with the meeting said he kept referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” during the dinner with Democrats, an oft-used insult he has levied at her.
Lujan Grisham said she has no issue with an individual member representing an issue the caucus cares about that is also one of the priorities of their constituents and said she had the same understanding of the details from the dinner.
“He felt like he got good response from the president, but a lukewarm response from staff,” she said. “But if the president is open to it, then we expect you to do right by these families.”
She said the ultimate goal is to stop these deportations, repatriate those who have been deported, and give health care and ultimately citizenship to these veterans. She said the lawmakers are clear-eyed about the crimes they committed but they’ve served their time and are effectively being made to pay the price twice.
“These benefits are not tied to making a mistake after their service and impact their whole families,” she said, adding that they need health care benefits while the issue is resolved, recalling a scene that particularly moved her in Tijuana, of 10 dog tags of deported veterans who died of unknown causes.
“Was it diabetes? A cardiac issue? Was there nothing that could have been done?” We have no idea,” she said. “We promise these things as the US federal government, we promise them to patriots and we allow you to serve but then you get deported because you’re not a U.S. citizen — that’s not right.”
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com