Kelly denies rogue ICE agents, but tells Hispanic caucus he'll check into it

Story highlights

  • After their meeting last month, House Democrats had called Kelly "dismissive"
  • This time, lawmakers took as a positive sign that Kelly acknowledged their concerns

Washington (CNN)Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Hispanic lawmakers Tuesday that he is confident immigration agents in his agency aren't going rogue -- but he also said he'd look into reports to the contrary.

In what all sides called a less contentious meeting than the last one between Kelly and Democratic lawmakers, the secretary denied that immigration enforcement agents were violating agency policies, especially regarding sensitive locations like schools, churches and hospitals where they are not allowed to make arrests.
But lawmakers took as a positive sign that Kelly acknowledged that it's possible mistakes could be made, and pledged that his staff would investigate specific instances if lawmakers could provide details.
    "(Kelly) said that they're incredibly well-trained and they have a tremendous vetting process, so by the time they get there to be officers he has tremendous confidence in them," said Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat. "He admitted that nobody's perfect, but that's why they have a system of checks and balances and he's happy to look into it. So it's up to us (to provide examples)."
    Cárdenas said he and other lawmakers raised concerns that even if 99% of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement workforce is operating professionally, a rogue 1% could cause "chaos."
    After the meeting, David Lapan, a spokesman for Kelly, told reporters that the secretary has "great confidence" in ICE, but said if someone violates policies or laws, "then they're held accountable."
    Kelly met with nearly two dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for an hour. The meeting did smooth some ruffled feathers: The all-Democratic CHC had requested a meeting with ICE earlier this year but ICE agreed to a smaller bipartisan meeting, and some CHC members were asked to leave when they showed up anyway. Kelly then met with the full Democratic House caucus and last week met with Democratic senators.
    After their meeting last month, House Democrats had called Kelly "dismissive" and expressed frustration with his responses. Democrats have strongly opposed aggressive stepped-up immigration enforcement by the Trump administration.
    CHC Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said she gives Kelly credit for being "respectful" Wednesday, and all the lawmakers who left the meeting and spoke with reporters said the tone was better than previous encounters.
    But Lujan Grisham said the group was still frustrated with what they felt was a denial of stories that all of them are hearing in their districts about ICE either targeting sensitive locations, parking in neighborhoods as an intimidation tactic or arresting non-criminals who should not be a priority for deportation in their eyes.
    "The sense that he doesn't want to hear that or believe that is really problematic, so we're going to continue to document those cases," Lujan Grisham said. "We're going to ask for him in writing to show us how he unequivocally knows (a case) didn't happen, (that) it did but there's an explanation, or that there's going to be accountability because it did occur but it's outside what the secretary believes their current role and discretion is."
    Cárdenas used more colorful language to describe the feeling among the caucus about Kelly's denial that ICE agents are behaving improperly.
    "Someone asked a question about ICE, saying that in our eyes, if (an officer) has parked their car in a community and everyone is worried, like, 'What is he doing here? Is he going to do a raid?' etc., and he said, 'No, no, that's not happening. It could be they're just there to drink their coffee,'" Cárdenas told reporters in Spanish, as translated by CNN.
    "Bulls---," he added in English, before returning to Spanish. "That's not what's happening. There are people that specifically know that those (agents) are doing something to affect that community and those people."
    Lujan Grisham said members asked Kelly to hold meetings with them every six weeks so they could discuss specific cases, and that he did not refuse but did not officially commit to do so. She also said CHC would explore legislative options to ensure ICE training and accountability.
    CHC members also presented Kelly with a 10-page letter listing further detailed questions they have about DHS' policies and enforcement.