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‘We are not thugs’: Rep. Correa defends Hispanic Caucus after dismissal from ICE meeting

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Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) were outraged after they were barred from a meeting with Thomas Homan, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

On Thursday, at the request of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the speaker’s staffers asked CHC members to leave the meeting, which was about the execution of President Trump’s controversial immigration policy. The Democrats were seeking clarification about the scope of the reported raids and the arrests of undocumented immigrants.

“We are not thugs. We are not gang members. We are not criminals. We are duly elected U.S. Congress people,” Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., told Yahoo News. “Each one of us represents about 750,000 people. And for them to deny us, essentially, a meeting to clarify policy is an affront to our democratic system … and by the way, most of us don’t have tattoos either.”

Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., told Yahoo News via email that it’s absurd for Republican leadership to dictate the terms of their meetings.

“People in my community have been arrested by ICE and I have been asking for answers for days,” she wrote. “For ICE to agree to a meeting, set a day and time, and then at the last minute cancel it, then turn around and schedule it with Republicans instead is wrong. There was no reason for ICE not to have two meetings — a meeting with the CHC and a meeting with leadership. People in my community are scared to leave their home, they are scared to answer their doors. No one should feel this way.”

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., does an interview on the House steps of the U.S. Capitol during orientation week in Washington on Nov. 15, 2016. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)
Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., does an interview on the House steps of the U.S. Capitol during orientation week in Washington on Nov. 15, 2016. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

Later that day, in a statement that was at times incendiary and sarcastic, Gutiérrez said that not only are Trump’s “mass deportation” executive orders unprecedented, but so are the lengths to which Ryan and Goodlatte will go to control information provided to congressional representatives.

“I expect such dictatorial shenanigans from the Trump administration, but not from competent, compassionate legislators like Speaker Ryan or from legislators like Bob Goodlatte. Do they have earpieces feeding them orders from President Bannon or the others making decisions in the White House?” Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., asked.

On Feb. 11, Gutiérrez and other Democratic members of Congress requested a meeting with Homan to discuss recent immigration raids throughout the country. They said that the raids struck fear in immigrant communities, and their constituents requested clarity about ICE’s interpretation of Trump’s executive order and its enforcement methods.

A meeting scheduled for Tuesday was subsequently canceled and rescheduled for Thursday. Gutiérrez lamented the fact that Republicans took control of the meeting and made it invitation-only. Members of the CHC were told that any future requests to speak with ICE officials would need to go through the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, told news outlets that the chair of the CHC, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., had been invited to the meeting.

“The Speaker’s office organized a small bipartisan briefing that was, at the request of [the Department of Homeland Security], limited to members with jurisdictional interests in immigration enforcement,’ Strong said.

“Members of the CHC expressed interest in attending, and to accommodate the request, we welcomed the chair of the CHC to join on behalf of the other members. We are confident that the CHC chair is capable of representing the views of her caucus, and this arrangement was made very clear to the CHC ahead of time.”

The other members of Congress excluded from the meeting were Reps. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif.; Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.; Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev.; Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., Norma Torres, D-Calif. and Juan Vargas, D-Calif.

Several other representatives also released scathing statements on Thursday.

“It is very unusual for a federal agency to refuse to share information when that is the purpose of their visit to Capitol Hill,” Cleaver said. “In my 12 years in Congress, I have never seen this happen. Even a 25 year Member and leader on the issue of immigration, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, was not allowed to stay. The information obtained from this meeting could have been vitally important to the people of my district.”

Torres said that members of her community — documented and undocumented — worry about their safety and the safety of their loved ones.

“Families have been upended, and many don’t know whom to trust,” she continued. “I have now written two letters to ICE asking for more information, including: Who has been swept up in these raids? Were non-criminals detained? Did they receive access to counsel and due process? And were any children left without parents? I am still awaiting ICE’s response.”

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