Democrats leave ICE meeting convinced arrests a taste of what’s to come

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, flanked by fellow Democrats, speaks after a closed-door meeting with ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan on recent actions that ICE said is business as usual, but critics fear is a return to immigration raids. (Photo by Joseph Guzman/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Democratic leaders left a meeting with immigration officials Thursday convinced that recent apprehensions, detentions and deportations have greatly expanded under President Donald Trump, and said they were told to “expect more arrests.”

That contradicts the official Immigration and Customs Enforcement position that recent arrests around the country are no different than the “routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations teams on a daily basis.”

ICE officials would not comment beyond the agency’s prepared statement and Republican House members who were at Thursday’s closed-door briefing with ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan did not immediately return requests for comment. But Democrats said the message they heard was clear.

“It is hard to not leave that meeting and believe that the Trump administration is going to target as many immigrants as possible,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas. He said that aside from not targeting deferred deportation recipients, “everything is fair game for them.”

Democrats said they left the meeting with a general sense that all immigrant communities are at risk, not just those immigrants illegally who have committed serious crimes.

“Of course we want those who are a danger to be deported, but for over 8 million of these people it’s just a status violation,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “There shouldn’t be grounds to allocate resources to arrest them.”

The briefing followed the arrest of more than 680 people during a series of enforcement actions by ICE across the country over the past week. They included undocumented individuals with minor offenses such as traffic violations and 176 who the Democrats said were identified as “non-criminals” by Homan.

Those arrests also followed Trump’s Jan. 27 executive orders that called for beefed-up enforcement of immigration law, the Democrats noted.

But ICE maintained that the arrests are routine.

“ICE conducts these kind of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years,” said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in a statement released Monday and cited again Thursday. “The focus of these enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations teams on a daily basis.”

-Cronkite News video by Tyler Fingert

The statement said the actions targeted public safety threats, such as convicted undocumented criminals and gang members, as well as individuals who have violated immigration laws, including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed.

But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, citing the arrest and deportation last week of Valley mother Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, said that is far from “business as usual” for ICE.

“They’re saying, ‘We’re only going after hardened criminals,’ but there’s too many cases coming up like the one in Arizona with the mom,” Grijalva said Wednesday. “That’s not a person-smuggling, drug cartel member, and she got swept up as part of this.”

De Rayos was required to regularly check in with ICE after being convicted in 2009 of using a false Social Security number, and had done so with no consequences until last week.

Her lawyer, Ray Maldonado, said he absolutely believes his client was deported because of Trump’s executive order, but said the when he asked ICE “directly they wouldn’t give me a direct answer.”

“Nothing has changed about Guadalupe’s case except Trump,” Maldonado said. “Under (President Barack) Obama they let her go and under Trump they deported her. That is a direct result.”

Grijalva and immigration advocates say the recent ICE actions have caused a heightened sense of uncertainty and fear in immigrant communities. Tomas Robles, executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona – LUCHA – said ICE’s actions have changed the way some people are living their lives.

“Some of our members have talked to us about whether to take their kids to school or about potentially moving to a more friendly state,” Robles said Wednesday. “There is definitely a fear of the fact that these raids could happen at any time and that nobody’s really safe.”