Black, Hispanic Caucuses Apply Pressure to Biden to Reign in ICE, Deportations

On Monday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) wrote with "grave concern" to newly confirmed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the deportation of Haitian immigrants fleeing violence. They included at least 72 people—among them a two-month-old baby and 21 other children.

Representative Mondaire Jones tweeted the feeling of lawmakers who he said "can't sit by while ICE blatantly ignores @POTUS' order & continues to deport planes full of Black people."

Just two days later, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) released a letter to Mayorkas concerning alarming reports that there was an uptick in deportations before his confirmation, which may mean immigrants were not afforded due process in the rush to get them out of the country.

It isn't new for the CHC to advocate on behalf of immigrants, and both groups lambasted Donald Trump's immigration policy during his presidency. But there is no question that President Joe Biden's administration brings with it new political dynamics and pressure points, where partnerships between Black and Latino lawmakers will be hard to ignore.

"I've been outspoken about the need to rein in abuse by ICE, including against Black asylum seekers who have endured intense cruelty," said Representative Joaquin Castro who helped lead multiple efforts to stop deportation flights to Cameroon and Haiti along with Representatives Karen Bass, Ilhan Omar and Cedric Richmond. "These death flights are not only inhumane due to the raging global pandemic, but also because of potential political persecution in Cameroon. Together with the Biden-Harris administration, Congress now has a partner to reform our unjust immigration system."

Texas Representative Marc Veasey, a member of the CBC who represents a district that is heavily Latino, told Newsweek there is strength in the CBC and CHC working together, particularly on immigration.

"Absolutely," he said. "It affects all of our communities, we have so many constituents whose families are caught up in our broken immigration system, and we're asked about often, when we're going to see fixes."

From the campaign to now governing, the Biden team made it clear that one difference between them and Trump was that they could multitask and handle multiple issues at once, said veteran Las Vegas Democratic strategist Andres Ramirez, who worked with the Obama administration on health care. That means the White House has no choice but to pay attention to these letters now, he argued.

"It's no secret that Black and Brown voters played a pivotal role in Biden's election and President Biden made various promises related to equity and immigration," Ramirez said. "The fact that both the CHC and CBC have submitted letters suggests the Biden administration should be taking these matters extremely seriously. It's not often that the CBC and CHC draft letters to the administration unless it's issues of top priority and concern."

One perhaps enduring problem for Biden will be the speed and accuracy with which DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) implements his directives—with Democrats within the CHC of the belief that career employees at DHS tried to deport as many people as possible before Mayorkas' confirmation, which led to the Hispanic caucus letter Wednesday.

"The CHC wants answers," CHC Chairman Representative Raul Ruiz said of the deportations, noting his respect for Mayorkas.

Representative Ayanna Pressley told Newsweek she will continue to work with her CHC and tri-caucus colleagues—which includes the Asian Pacific American Caucus—to push the Biden administration and Congress to rebuild an immigration system that affirms the dignity and humanity of everyone, regardless of their immigration status or skin color, and keeps ICE in check.

"The unjust mass deportation of our Haitian neighbors and the specific targeting of Black immigrants in recent days is further evidence that ICE is a rogue agency that is beyond reform and will stop at nothing to continue terrorizing our communities," she said. "ICE must answer for this cruel and callous action and urgently return these individuals back to the United States."

"The Democratic caucus writ large is deeply committed to reigning in the excesses of ICE, which has operated as an overzealous deportation machine," New York Representative Ritchie Torres, who is a member of both the CBC and CHC and signed onto the letter on Haitian deportations, told Newsweek. Even though Biden is the president, ICE continues to operate as a "rogue agency" separating families and of the belief that Trump is still president, he said.

He mentioned the case of Javier Castillo Maradiega, a 27-year-old who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and whose deportation to Honduras was recently halted. The young man was a recipient of DACA, the Obama-era program that shielded him from deportation—until his status expired and police arrested him for jaywalking, before adding other unknown charges, and putting him in the custody of ICE.

"He's every bit as American as you and me," Torres said. "But despite the election of a new president who put forward a moratorium on deportations, ICE was intent on deporting Javier."

Newsweek reached out to ICE for comment.

Biden Mayorkas
President Joe Biden (L) talks with newly sworn in Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas before signing several executive orders directing immigration actions for his administration in the Oval Office at the White House on February 02, 2021 in Washington, DC. The orders will aim to reunite migrant families that were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border and authorize a wholesale review of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty