Congressional Hispanic Caucus Demands Explanation After Immigration Raids
LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:
It has been a tumultuous weekend for immigration enforcement. Agents conducted raids in several states and picked up hundreds of people believed to be living in the U.S. illegally. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, says it was all routine, and President Trump hails the raids as a fulfillment of his campaign promises.
This morning, White House policy adviser Stephen Miller said in an interview on NBC that these actions are in line with an executive order the president signed last month with a fairly broad definition of who may be prioritized for deportation, including people who have improperly received public benefits or those convicted or even charged with any crime.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
STEPHEN MILLER: The order describes a criminal offense, which would typically mean anything from a misdemeanor to a felony. In particular, the emphasis is on crimes that threaten or endanger public safety.
SINGH: But immigration advocates say that some people who have not committed violent crimes have been deported. Some are said to have broken drunk driving laws or to have falsified employment documents. President Trump said last month on ABC that his administration would take a humane approach to deportations, especially when it comes to so-called dreamers.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They shouldn't be very worried. They are here illegally. They shouldn't be very worried. I do have a big heart. We're going to take care of everybody. We're going to have a very strong border. We're going to have a very solid border where you have great people that are here that have done a good job. They should be far less worried.
SINGH: White House adviser Stephen Miller was asked this morning whether simply being in the United States illegally was enough to prompt immediate deportation.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MILLER: An immigration judge makes those decisions. An ICE officer makes those decisions. I and the White House don't make those decisions.
SINGH: The ICE operations have immigration rights advocates up in arms, including on Capitol Hill. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is now requesting a meeting with ICE to explain the raids and try to gauge whether there's likely to be a notable shift away from the Obama administration's policy and who the agency targets. Will it continue to focus on felons or will ICE go beyond that?
Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, Democrat from New Mexico, chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. She has thrown her hat as well in the ring to be governor of her state in 2018. She joined us earlier today in the studio and disclosed that a meeting has been confirmed for Tuesday with ICE director Thomas Homan. But, she said, there has not been much communication with the agency beyond that.
MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: I have not had a conversation with Mr. Homan. And, in fact, as we started to get information Thursday evening that raids, the sweep - I mean, ICE is calling it routine enforcement. But when you do a six-state effort, and when local ICE officials say that they're not aware of anything else going on, that there's no coordinated effort, I find that to be a very purposeful, shallow statement so that we're not as concerned about what's going on. So we are very concerned about what's going on.
SINGH: OK. Specifically what do we know so far? What have you heard so far about the people who are being targeted in these raids?
GRISHAM: Well, that's the issue - very little. So from the advocates we're hearing that there are a lot of collateral detainments - right? - so somebody comes looking for one individual. They knock on the door. The door gets open. That person's not there, but then they ask the entire family whether they have documentation proving that they are either citizens or legal residents, and then - and someone's picked up. So if you're really targeting a criminal element, that doesn't fit with that scenario.
Obama said, look, these are clear felonies - gang violence, human trafficking, drug issues. These are people that really we don't want. It's a criminal element. To the Trump administration, it says any infraction. Well, that means if you're working, there's likely to be an infraction - right? - because you can't work without some sort of, you know, legal set of documents that says that you can work. So we're separating families, who have been good citizens, who have done everything they can to put food on the table, that are participating, quite frankly, in our economy. And they are striking fear in the hearts of those communities by breaking up those families and detaining them and deporting them.
SINGH: Now, let's talk about the people you're hearing from - constituents.
GRISHAM: Well, just in my own state, New Mexico, there really is panic. Panic moves to anger. You know...
SINGH: Do you have any idea of the level...
GRISHAM: ...You're a 15-year-old son, and you think that your mother can be picked up and deported. This means that you become very insular, you don't go to work, you are hiding in your community. That creates more risk and harm.
SINGH: But are these immigration advocate offices, for example, getting a flood of phone calls more than usual?
GRISHAM: They are getting a flood of phone calls. You bet.
SINGH: Give me an idea, a picture of what's happening (unintelligible)...
GRISHAM: So I can't tell you, even in New Mexico, the number of phone calls. But, for example, federal judges are concerned because they're seeing more people in their courtrooms. There are insufficient number of immigration lawyers. They're getting calls from the Mexican Consulate that they're being contacted, that people don't know their rights. They don't know that without a warrant they shouldn't open their door. Frankly, if judges are seeing people in, if we know detentions have increased, if we know calls to lawyers are increasing, if we know calls to offices, if people are harboring themselves in community churches and with community organizations, that's a shift.
SINGH: Well, speaking of churches, I don't know if you got a chance to see the article in The Washington Post today talked about sanctuary sites. And it said, you know, churches, schools, hospitals are considered among these places where ICE traditionally considered off-limits, unless they had clear authorization from their superiors to move in and conduct a raid. Can you tell me if you heard this become a much more prominent part of the conversation on the ground among activists?
GRISHAM: It's really going to depend on the community given that there's been such a push by the Trump administration to say that we will not allow there to be sanctuary cities, which then rolls down to no sanctuary cities, there are no sanctuary institutions, right? In my own state, I got one university that says that they deem themselves a sanctuary university and another one that says they're not going to. In my district, Albuquerque's no longer going to be a sanctuary city, but 60 miles north Santa Fe is.
So if you've got policymakers, so the mayor of Albuquerque, saying we are going to cooperate, if you've got universities that says they're going to cooperate, then traditional - if you've got a university hospital that's in Albuquerque, you know, are they going to let the Albuquerque Police Department and ICE come in? I don't know the answer.
We're going to have to assess all of the shift in the climate about where people can be really protected until we sort things out. And the Hispanic Caucus, the Minority Caucus, the Democratic Caucus, moderate Republicans are going to have to stand up for their constituents.
SINGH: Michelle Lujan Grisham chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and she joined us from our studios in Washington, D.C. Congressman Lujan Grisham, thank you again for speaking with us.
GRISHAM: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.