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Members of Congress expressed alarm that all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are at risk of deportation. They said this was made clear to them in a meeting Thursday with a top Immigration and Customs Enforcement official.
There are approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said that she and other lawmakers left a meeting with ICE Acting Director Tom Homan with a sense that with changes ordered by President Donald Trump through his executive orders, "all immigrant communities are at risk."
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., said in a statement that, "in effect, every undocumented person in America is now vulnerable to arrest and removal as a result of the president’s orders."
Jennifer Elzea, an ICE spokeswoman, said in a statement that Homan emphasized in the meeting that ICE "does not conduct arrests indiscriminately" or use checkpoints. Instead, officers target preidentified individuals for arrest at specific locations based on law enforcement leads."
But he also said that when officers encounter individuals in the U.S. in violation of federal immigration laws, they make arrests. "Every arrest is made on a case by case basis," Elzea said.
Rep. Linda Sanchez, a vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said that "they said we can and should expect many more arrests and removals this year."
The meeting drew anger from several Latino lawmakers who were not allowed to be at the meeting.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., seen as a longtime champion for immigrants, tweeted that he was ejected from the meeting by the staff of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Gutierrez tweeted about his ejection, saying “Never before in my 20-plus years has this happened.”
He followed with a tweet in Spanish, “With Trump in the White House we have a dictator in Congress.”
Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., also asked to stay at the meeting but was told by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chair of the House Judiciary Committee, that she had to leave.
Torres later told NBC Latino in an e-mail, "I have constituents calling me, afraid of going to work, or sending their kids to school. I need to give them answers."
A spokeswoman for Ryan said the meeting had been organized as a small bipartisan briefing limited "to members with jurisdictional interests in immigration enforcement." Homan was supposed to address members of the CHC on Tuesday, and that meeting had been canceled.
ICE arrested nearly 700 people in multi-city raids and operations across the country last week, including among those taken into custody people who were not considered priorities for deportation under the Obama administration.
The sweeps caused panic, fear and confusion throughout the immigrant community, as people who once thought they were safe learned of the arrests. Since the arrests, lawmakers with large immigrant communities in their states have been pressing the Trump administration to articulate under what guidelines for arrest and deportation that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have been operating.
Sanchez said that the current resources that ICE has is the only thing limiting who the agency removes.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the executive order on immigration enforcement parallels the order by Trump on banning entry to the country of people from seven Muslim countries.
"There was very little guidance that went to the field so you have people around interpreting what they think the guidance is," Thompson said. He said the guidance was requested but was not available at the meeting with Homan.
Unclear is where this leaves immigrants shielded from deportation and allowed to work through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. A young immigrant with DACA was arrested in Seattle during one of last week's operations and a hearing is planned Friday on his arrest, which he is challenging.
Thompson said the lawmakers were told DACA recipients are not at risk, but with certain conditions.
President Donald Trump said in a news conference Thursday that his administration is "gonna deal with DACA with heart."
He said DACA is a very difficult subject for him, saying that some DACA recipients are gang members and drug dealers, "but some (are) absolutely incredible kids" He said he needs to convice politicians "that what I'm saying is right."
According to DHS, DACA has been revoked from some 1,500 people since 2012 because of a criminal conviction or gang affiliation. That's out of nearly 730,000 people who have been granted DACA over the same period.
Additional reporting by NBC's Marissa Armas.