In only the past few weeks, U.S. immigration officers arrested 367 undocumented immigrants.
But Newsweek reports they weren’t just the“bad hombres” President Donald Trump said were the priority for removing from the country. In some cases, individuals were arrested for offenses such as driving under the influence or possessing marijuana.
“It appears that some of the mean-spirited rhetoric out of the Trump administration has emboldened certain immigration agents to act outside of their typical powers, and we really need to hear that if you of these cases locally,” Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor told several dozen activists and citizens who jammed into the Blind Tiger Cafe on Ybor City’s 7th Avenue Wednesday morning.
When an audience member talked about a local detention that lacked specifics, Castor said she would need more information before acting.
“That’s the only way that I’m empowered to ask Secretary Kelly and say,’ they’ve overstepped their bounds,'” she said, referring to John Kelly, who heads the Department of Homeland Security.
Castor added that while she’s heard about DHS taking a harder line against undocumented immigrants, she was not aware of any such actions taking place in her District, which encompasses Hillsborough County.
“That’s why it’s really important to let me know if you hear those kinds of things happening,” she said.
Regarding the issue of sanctuary cities and/or counties, Castor told the crowd they should stop using that phrase, as it was intentionally divisive. The loosely defined term is best described as local government limiting cooperation with the federal government to help undocumented immigrants avoid deportation.
“There’s a lot of confusion and emotion around the term,” Castor said. “I think it’s a trap. I think it was a term that was created to divide people and to demonize diverse areas.”
The Tampa Democrat said the real question to ask is what are the responsibilities of the local law enforcement compared to federal officers.
“Their responsibility is not to enforce federal immigration law, and we wouldn’t want our tax dollars to be spent on that. We want our local law enforcement officials focused on local crime,” she said of both Tampa Police and Hillsborough County Sheriff Deputies.
Castor said she strongly disagreed with the Trump administration’s potential plan to withhold federal grants to cities saying they will not detain undocumented immigrants using requests called detainers.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri agrees. He recently told WTSP-10 News that courts have said that his department can’t legally keep an inmate beyond their court-ordered incarceration.
“That’s not something I get to decide, is that, yes, people who are in this country illegally do have constitutional rights. Like it or not. That’s a fact. And that’s the law,” Gualtieri said. “If somebody walks in front of me right now and tells me that they are here in this country is illegally, there’s nothing I can do about it. We have no authority, we have no laws, we have no jurisdiction, and there’s nothing we can do.”
“There is a dichotomy between the responsibilities of local law enforcement and the responsibilities of our federal authorities,” Castor said.
Regarding the issue of skilled “merit-based” immigration, Castor decried the fact that our universities recruit talented students from overseas, and yet the law doesn’t allow them to get on a path to citizenship after graduating. Our current legal immigration system favors family-based migration. Concurrently, the visa lottery system allows 55,000 immigrants into the country annually.
Krishna Kalyan Thatavarthy, an engagement lead at Citi Bank, asked Castor to support a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz to eliminate the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants. Thatavarthy is from India and says he’s been waiting for 17 years to get a green card.
“The average wait time for a skilled immigrant from India is 20 to 70 years,” Thatavarthy said, stunning the audience. “When you are hired based off your skill, why do you differentiate based off your country of birth?” he asked, adding that a high-skilled immigrant from the Philippines with the same skill set as himself could get a green card in a year-and-a-half.
“Does this make any sense?” Castor asked rhetorically after hearing from Thatavarthy. One reason that particular piece of legislation may be stalled, she added, is the fear that if it’s removed from a greater comprehensive immigration package, there would be even less incentive from some lawmakers to support a more encompassing bill.
Meanwhile, a memo issued Tuesday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calls for federal attorneys to consider prosecution of anyone harboring undocumented immigrants, with priority given to violent cases and those that involve transporting or shielding three or more undocumented immigrants. Sessions also instructed the Justice Department to pursue felony charges when applicable for immigrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally on multiple occasions.
And about the much-hyped border wall along the Mexican border, which the president said on the campaign trail would be paid for by the Mexican government?
The Trump administration said they will request immediate funding to build the wall in the upcoming appropriations bill, which needs approval by April 28.
Castor predicted a “very good chance” that Democrats will block that funding, but expects it to be requested again in another appropriations bill later this summer.