Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez was briefly handcuffed after refusing to leave a meeting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Chicago, saying he planned to risk arrest by staying at the agency’s office in The Loop until demands are met.
The Democratic congressman led a sit-in following a meeting that began around 10 a.m. Monday with a delegation of activists that included about 22 advocates, attorneys, community leaders and other local elected officials, according to Gutierrez's spokesman Douglas Rivlin.
“They were asking about specific cases and about the general conduct of ICE and deportations,” Rivlin said at a news conference Monday afternoon. “The congressman has decided that he did not get the answers he was looking for from the ICE regional director and he’s going to be staying inside until he gets answers, even if that means risking arrest.”
Seven others from the meeting refused to leave alongside Gutierrez, who tweeted that he “was arrested, cuffed then cuffs were cut off” around 1:30 p.m. “Waiting for further word on if/when we will be arrested.”
Specific immigration cases discussed in the meeting included the pending deportations of Army veteran Miguel Perez Jr., according to Rivlin, as well as Francisca Lino, whose husband and four of her six children are U.S. citizens.
"The congressman first met with the same ICE regional director in 2008 about this case, about getting a deferral from deportation," Rivlin said. "Ms. Lino came in regularly for meetings with ICE every year as a condition for her deferred deportation, and a couple of weeks ago she was told that she would need to get her bags together and has a specific date for when she is going to be deported in July. The congressman is asking that that deportation be canceled."
"The congressman said this is reprehensible that immigrants are being treated this way, that the rules are changed without any information or notice, that low priorities for deportation are being removed from the country and the congressman wants to get answers from the staff here, and he has not been getting any answers," Rivlin continued. "They need to call Washington, they need to call the White House."
"This is the same situation that we had when there were people arriving at the airports and they couldn’t get information out of CIS and ICE officials about how they were being treated," Rivlin said, referring to the rollout of President Trump's Jan. 27 executive order halting refugee resettlement and suspending entry of immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
That order, which was put on hold by a federal judge, caused immediate chaos and protests at airports in Chicago and around the country as travelers were detained.
"We even had one ICE officer say, 'Well, you should just call the White House to get information,'" Rivlin said of immigration authorities' response to Gutierrez's questions on Trump's controversial order. "Well, maybe they need to call the White House."
Trump signed a new version of the travel ban on March 6 that leaves Iraq off the list of impacted countries and does not apply to those with valid visas or green card holders. That order is scheduled to take effect on March 16, though it already faces legal challenges from states including Hawaii, Washington, New York and more.
"They need to get some answers for the congressman and the congressman is prepared to get arrested if that’s what it takes," Rivlin continued.
Gutierrez was among a group of Hispanic congressmen barred from a meeting with a top federal immigration enforcement official in February.
According to Gutierrez, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were scheduled to speak with the acting director of ICE on Feb. 14 in a meeting the congressman said was abruptly canceled and rescheduled for two days later.
At that point, Gutierrez said it was transformed into an invitation-only affair, and he was asked to leave by an aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
"In 20-plus years, I have never heard of the Republicans controlling what meetings Democrats can have with officials of the Executive Branch and never had a staffer ask me to leave a meeting to which I am entitled to attend," Gutierrez said in a statement following the incident.
A spokeswoman for Ryan told Politico that the speaker’s office organized the event at the request of the Department of Homeland Security, limiting attendance to "members with jurisdictional interests in immigration enforcement."
"There has been no dialogue, no transparency, no consultation, and no accountability – just like every other aspect of how this White House does business," Gutierrez said in a statement about Monday's incident. "It is heavy-handed government in secret all to make the new strongman President look tough and to satisfy the cravings of his coliseum audience for some immigrants to sacrifice."
"Chicago officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations agreed to an informational meeting on March 13 with Congressman Luis Gutierrez and various community groups. During this meeting, ERO Chicago officials responded to the Congressman’s requests for information. However, when the Congressman sought actions and assurances that ICE officials couldn’t provide, he and other meeting attendees staged a sit-in and refused to leave the ERO office at the conclusion of the meeting," ICE Public Affairs Officer Gail Montenegro said in a statement.
"Federal Protective Service officers were called by ERO to the scene because the individuals would not leave the ERO office. FPS provided three separate verbal warnings and after each warning FPS provided the individuals several minutes to comply. When the group refused to leave, they were briefly placed in flexible plastic restraints before ICE officials relayed that they no longer wanted the individuals removed from the building. The Congressman and other individuals were placed in the restraints for approximately two minutes before the flex cuffs were removed by FPS. FPS did not cite these individuals."