A meeting that congressional Democrats hoped would provide more insight into the Trump administration's immigration enforcement ended up being a testy encounter with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and lawmakers said yielded little new information.
Democrats described Kelly as dismissive and disrespectful to them and said he lacked data or answers to their questions for the Friday meeting that was closed to press.
Kelly, on the other hand, said after the meeting that “members of Congress can now look into my heart and my brain and decide if I have empathy.”
Rep. Joe Crowley, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said Kelly is the first member of the administration to meet with the caucus and seemed willing to meet with the Democrats again, with the Hispanic Caucus and members of the Senate.
But Crowley, D-N.J., had some advice for him for Kelly's next meeting with Congress.
“It’s important for any secretary, but certainly Secretary Kelly, that when you come before members of the House of Representatives and the Democratic Caucus, this is not boot camp. This is not newly inducted members of the Marine Corps,” Crowley said.
“These are experienced lawmakers … and first and foremost to not be dismissive of members as if they were plebes or cadets, but to take their questions and answer them in the spirit they were asked,” Crowley said.
Some members of Congress have been upset that immigration agents have arrested a couple of young people who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and therefore have legal permission to be in the U.S. and to work.
Daniela Vargas was arrested in Jackson, Miss. and Daniel Ramirez Medina in Washington state. Vargas, arrested after she spoke out against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has been released. But Ramirez remains in custody after a magistrate on Thursday refused to order his release.
Kelly told the lawmakers DHS was not going after DACA kids.
In a news conference after the meeting he said that he told the Democrats “the least of my worries right now is anyone who falls under the category of DACA.”
Lawmakers said he told them he “is the best thing that happened to DACA … it is still on the books.”
Trump had said during his campaign he would repeal former President Barack Obama’s executive action that created DACA, which Republicans have contested in court as an overreach by Obama.
In a DHS memo that spells out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents how to enforce Trump’s policies, DACA recipients were exempted. However,ICE, part of DHS, also sent out a tweet last week saying deferred action can be revoked at any time. Another said DACA recipients were low priority for deportation.
Lawmakers said Kelly maintained that immigration officers were not arresting people at churches and schools. But Rep. Linda Sanchez, deputy vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, said the lawmakers have photos and video that proves otherwise.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., said that if Kelly wanted to dispute what the lawmakers were presenting him, he should have brought data and documents to counter their findings.
Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., said he remains hopeful that Kelly’s own loss of a son will help him empathize with families being separated by deportations.
“His son did die when he was fighting for our country overseas. He does know what it’s like to suffer as a parent and the issue of separating children from mothers,” Vargas said.
“I’m still very hopeful he will take a look at what we said and the situation that’s happening around the country … and won’t separate parents from children and won’t go to these sensitive areas,” he said.