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House Democrats frustrated after immigration meeting with Homeland Security head

Frustrated House Democrats say they got few specifics from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly when they questioned him Friday in a closed-door meeting about his agency's efforts to comply with President Trump's immigration orders.

The orders have caused panic in many of California's immigrant communities because they are aimed at deporting millions of people who are in the country illegally. 

Some Democrats in the meeting said Kelly told them "if you don't like the law, change the law," when they complained about how immigration officers seemed to be enforcing laws under Trump.

Several were especially dismayed by what they called Kelly's dismissive attitude about concerns that immigration enforcement agents have targeted immigrants at churches, schools and courthouses.

"Secretary Kelly seemed almost incredulous that there could be agents that are not following policies and procedures, and I think, given his background as a general, he's used to chain of command," said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Whittier). "I think he's learning, probably quickly, that the information he gets back from folks in the field may not always be 100% accurate, and orders that come from the top down may not always be implemented."

Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan, in a phone call after the meeting, disagreed with Sanchez's sentiment.

“The secretary was certainly attentive to what they were saying,” Lapan said. “It’s not being dismissive. There are areas where there was just not going to be agreement.”

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) said he presented Kelly with photos of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement vehicle outside Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, and a letter from Bishop Kevin Vann of the Orange County Diocese asking ICE not to enter diocese property.

“Christ Cathedral is my church. I know what it looks like, and these photos clearly show an ICE vehicle staking out the parking lot," Correa said in a statement. "This is despicable, and this behavior must end. It is intimidation, and it is wrong.”

In a email to The Times, Lapan indicated the vehicle was in the lot because a Customs and Border Patrol honor guard was attending the funeral of a military veteran. Lapan said churches, schools and hospitals all remain on the list of spaces immigration officials are not supposed to target.

The Democrats also questioned Kelly about plans to separate women and children at the border as a deterrent to entering the country illegally. Sanchez said Kelly assured her that policy has not been put in place, but added that it could be at any time.

“Why wouldn’t we consider ways to keep children off this very dangerous route?” Lapan said. “If we can keep people from making that dangerous journey in the first place, that is the best outcome.”

Democratic members also peppered Kelly with questions about Trump's orders to build a wall along the country's southern border and to ban travel from six predominantly Muslim countries.

UPDATES

March 18, 6:52 p.m.: Updated with a statement from about the vehicle outside the church.

4:04 p.m.: An earlier version of this post left out the first reference to Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Whittier).

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