Lawmakers representing Hispanic communities across the country are demanding answers from the Department of Homeland Security following a series of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations that led to hundreds of arrests in multiple states last week — so far, the elected officials say, they aren’t getting them.
On Tuesday, ICE’s acting director, Thomas Homan, cancelled a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in which he was to provide details on the more than 680 people arrested across the country last week and explain the guidance given to his agents in conducting the operations.
ICE had described the operations as “routine,” but when Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, head of the Hispanic caucus, called the ICE chief following the cancellation of yesterday’s meeting, she learned that was not exactly the case.
“He confirmed that there’s a shift in policy but did not give me the details about what that means,”Lujan Grisham told The Intercept.
Lujan Grisham added that Homan also “confirmed that that shift in policy has made its way to all of the local ICE agents” and said the ICE director indicated the cancellation of yesterday’s meeting was the result of directions from his superiors — meaning DHS Secretary John Kelly or the White House.
ICE and the White House did not respond to requests for comment. DHS, meanwhile, denied that the cancellation was ordered from Washington. In a statement to The Intercept, DHS press secretary Gillian M. Christensen said, “ICE leadership agreed to meet with six Democratic Members of Congress who signed a request on Monday, February 13, with the purpose of updating them on ICE’s recent enforcement operations. Because the attendees’ list grew substantially, DHS reached out to the House leadership staff to arrange a bipartisan, in-depth briefing, which the Speaker’s office arranged and scheduled for Thursday of this week.”
“ICE looks forward to sharing information on its enforcement operations and how they are humanely and professionally enforcing U.S. immigration law,” Christensen added.
While ICE conducted similar raids under the Obama administration, new executive orders on domestic immigration enforcement signed by President Trump have radically expanded the universe of individuals prioritized for deportation. While he did not get into details, Grisham said, Homan did confirm that the shift in policy is in accordance with Trump’s executive order — DHS did not address questions related to orders.
That shift is significant, lawmakers and advocates say, because Trump’s directives effectively make every undocumented person in the country a target for removal.
Lujan Grisham first revealed the details of the conversation in a press conference Tuesday afternoon — in which Rep. Grace Napolitano called the government’s stated justification for canceling the meeting as “bullshit”— and elaborated on the information in an interview with The Intercept Wednesday morning. She explained that the “real shift” in Trump’s executive order is found in its “broader language and discretion.” Under the order, undocumented individuals who are suspected of having committed an offense that could constitute a crime can be deported, even if they are never convicted or even charged.
“This is really chilling in terms of what the potential intent here is, particularly if you match it to the Trump campaign — ‘we’re going to deport everyone who’s here illegally,’”Lujan Grisham said. “Are we starting that?” she asked. “I, we, won’t know, until we can get the details of every person who’s been arrested.”
ICE has reportedly circulated written guidance to its agents on implementation of Trump’s order. Obtaining that guidance,Lujan Grisham said, is critical for the public to understand exactly where the immigration enforcement agency’s priorities lie — DHS did not comment on the existence of the guidance when asked if it would be handed over to lawmakers. In a statement Monday, DHS Secretary Kelly said 75 percent of those arrested were “criminal aliens.” While Kelly pointed to a number of serious, violent offenses committed by some of those arrested, there was no comprehensive breakdown of the alleged violations among the arrestees, and the term criminal alien is broad enough to include a whole host of low-level, nonviolent offenses.
“Is it individuals with false identification to work?”Lujan Grisham asked. “Is it individuals who were deported? Moms who came back to unite with their American-born, citizen children? I don’t know what he means by that 75 percent.”
When the federal government conducts sweeping law enforcement operations in multiple states that by its own admission leads to the arrests of scores of individuals with no criminal record — such as the other 25 percent referenced in Kelly’s statement — a detailed explanation to lawmakers is critical,Lujan Grisham argued. Anything less, she said, threatens core principles of democracy and due process.
“You’re just unleashing a police power without any kind of involvement from anybody else and that is not how this country operates,” she said. “The potential there is we’re creating an immigration police state.”
Beyond the ICE raids conducted last week, which represent a small fraction of the agency’s overall deportations,Lujan Grisham said she has received concerning reports about a broader, opaque re-ordering of the nation’s deportation apparatus. “Federal judges are saying there’s an uptick in cases that are being presented to them,” she said, which suggests “increased efforts at enforcement all across the country.” This could mean one of two things,Lujan Grisham said: first, that the government is being misleading about the changes underway, or second, that there’s so much confusion inside DHS that explanations are virtually impossible to provide. “Both are terrible,” she said. “Certainly I hope it’s the latter, that we’re not being purposefully misguided or misled.”
The cancellation of yesterday’s meeting came just hours before news broke that Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant enrolled in President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program with no criminal record, had been arrested by ICE agents in Washington state. Under DACA, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as young children are permitted to go to school or work without threat of deportation. Approximately 750,000 people are enrolled in the program and immigration advocates fear their status could be under threat from the Trump administration.
DHS has described Ramirez as a “self-admitted gang member” but did not provide supporting evidence when asked by The Intercept. “He was arrested February 10 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and transferred to the Northwest Detention Center to await the outcome of removal proceedings before an immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review,” Christensen, the DHS public affairs officer, said. “ICE officers took Mr. Ramirez into custody based on his admitted gang affiliation and risk to public safety.”
Ramirez and his lawyers have categorically denied the characterization. Following a complaint filed by his attorneys, a federal judge has given the government until Thursday morning to justify his arrest. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Seattle City Council member Lorena González said Ramirez’s arrest has shaken an immigrant community that was already on edge following Trump’s election. Washington is home to 28,000 DACA recipients.
“Right before the end of the year, we had a roundtable with about 16 immigrant-focused organizations, and they told us some stories, real-life stories, of immigrants living here in Seattle who are really fearful, including a representative from an organization that advocates for students, many of whom are DACA recipients,” González told The Intercept. “A lot of them are worried about applying for financial aid, a lot of them are worried about continuing to go to school and classes, because they just don’t know what this president intends to do with the DACA program and I think this arrest of Daniel adds to that uncertainty.”
González echoed concerns that, beyond DACA recipients, Trump’s executive orders and the administration’s focus on the broad category of “criminal aliens” threaten a huge number of people.
“It is an incredibly wide net,” she said. “It’s easy to just throw out the word criminal because that evokes a certain public response — the reality is that the folks that are being talked about include people who have used a different name on their applications for work or people who have, for example, returned to the country after being deported for potentially something as low as a misdemeanor.”
With another meeting scheduled for tomorrow,Lujan Grisham, the Hispanic caucus chair, is hopeful that ICE’s acting chief will show up — and that he’ll come prepared.
“The point I made to acting Director Homan is, ‘You better come with data,’” she said. “It does none of us any good if we’re going to talk in the 30,000-foot view — ‘These are routine, we picked up about this number of individuals, they all had final orders or criminal issues, and we had minimal collateral apprehensions’ — and then to walk away.”
“That is insufficient,” she said. “We want the facts.”