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Hispanic Caucus: ICE Confirmed It Went 'Broader' on Immigration Arrests

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair said ICE confirmed last week's arrests were a broader effort aimed at criminals and suspected criminals.
Image: U.S. ICE officers conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Atlanta
ICE officers conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. on February 9, 2017.NTB SCANPIX / Reuters

The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that last week's immigration arrests were a "a broader effort that can be aimed at anyone with a criminal record or is suspected at criminal activity."

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she spoke with ICE acting director Thomas Homan Tuesday after the agency canceled a meeting that was planned with several members of the caucus. ICE told Grisham, D-N.M., it wanted to open the meeting to others and allow it to be bipartisan.

Grisham said she persisted for details on who was arrested by ICE fugitive operations teams that conducted sweeps last week in several cities around the country.

"He confirmed ... that unlike other actions in the past that this is a broader effort that can be aimed at anyone that has a criminal record or is suspected of criminal activity, which meets the language of course of broader discretion to Homeland Security and I'm very concerned about that because that's a shift," Grisham said.

ICE had insisted it was carrying out immigration operations as it had always done. NBC News reached out to ICE Tuesday for comment on its guidelines and the arrests, but did not get a response.

Image: ICE officers detain a suspect as they conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles
ICE officers detain a suspect as they conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on February 7, 2017.HANDOUT / Reuters

However, the executive orders that President Donald Trump issued greatly expand the immigrants who are priorities for arrest than who were priorities under the Obama administration.

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"Instead of dealing with dangerous criminals who we can certainly understand and expect that based on public safety would be individuals that would be a priority of any administration in any of our communities, this appears — based on that conversation I just had and the fact they canceled the meeting and the fact that we don't have that data —that this was a different effort in its entirety," Grisham said.

She said ICE has scheduled a new meeting with members of Congress on Thursday. Grisham said Homan "made it clear" to her that the cancellation of the CHC meeting came from higher up and "I believe I’m accurately reflecting his statement when he said Kelly and the White House."

Grisham and other congressional members said they don't know whether ICE agents have been given any new guidelines for arrests, despite reports that a memo has been issued. The members said they've gotten different reports from different agents and districts on whether they have guidelines for following Trump's executive orders, which give immigration officers wide discretion on who to arrest.

"The discretion does not look like it is effectively administered so that it is uniform ... and there’s broad discretion region to region, state to state, which is also problematic," Grisham said.

The Obama administration set priorities for who to arrest and deport and its operations teams increasingly targeted those immigrants.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., speaks as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus hold a news conference to speak out against the House Republican budget and its impact on the Latino community on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said that under Obama the target was dangerous criminals, but if the nanny lived next door, agents didn't also go after the nanny, if she had not committed serious crimes.

"It looks like, if the dangerous criminal is there and there are random other people there, they are picking up those people too," Lofgren said.

She said there has been a press report of a guidance memo and members of Congress would like to see it. "It's not secret. This is a country of laws and we think the public should know what's in that memo and we will ask for that as well as any guidance that has been given to field staff."

But Grisham said a Los Angeles ICE director told her there has been no guidance or memo, there have been no efforts "to do this" across the country. "It's all being done verbally," she said.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. said members don't know if ICE agents are acting on their own interpretation of Trump's executive order.

During the Bush administration, fugitive operations teams also went after a wider target and a Migration Policy Institute study found that from 2003 to 2008, some 75 percent of the people they were arresting were not criminals. The operations teams' budget and personnel increased during that time.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said her constituents are "freaked out."

Residents in her district told her that last Thursday, six armed vehicles came into their neighborhood with men "with all kinds of weapons and they were hunting down undocumented men."

ICE last week pushed back on reports of raids or traffic stops or random arrests, accusing advocates of spreading panic with false information.

But Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., said she called her local ICE agent and learned more than half a dozen of her constituents were picked up. She said she could not get information on what crimes they committed.

"I did get an answer that they were no longer following the Obama memos," Barragán said.

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