Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly reportedly told House Democrats on Friday that he was "the best thing to happen" to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, in a closed-door meeting that lawmakers described as "damn frustrating" and "belligerent."
The meeting was called to get information on the Trump administration's deportation policies after a number of Democratic lawmakers were kicked out of a meeting with immigration officials last month, but party leaders told Politico on Friday that Kelly showed up without answers to dozens of letters Democrats have been mailing to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which the agency has also ignored.
"To not even get a response," said House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Linda Sánchez (Calif.), "we feel like we are sending letters into a black hole."
Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), who said he left the meeting early because of Kelly's attitude, said, "He's literally talking in circles. It's pretty damn frustrating."
Others described his demeanor as "tense" and "rude."
Referring to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama-era program that allows immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to live and work legally in the country, Kelly said, "I'm the best thing that happened to DACA.... it is still on the books."
Politico's Heather Caygle reports:
But Democrats left the meeting saying it was clear Kelly had a "pass the buck" mentality, even telling lawmakers he's "not a lawyer" when asked if he thought DACA is recognized as the rule of the law by DHS.
"I can guarantee you we're not going after kids that are fully DACA qualified," Kelly said, prompting audible scoffs from members in the room.
"Give me a break will you?" he responded, according to sources.
When some Congress members brought up reports that homeland security agents were overstepping guidelines that recommended they not hound immigrants in "sensitive" locations such as schools and churches, the DHS chief became "incredulous," some said.
He also defended the administration's proposal to separate mothers and children at the border, deporting the parents and placing the children into foster care.
"If you don't like the law we are enforcing, and I don't like many of them, please, please, please change the law," he said.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said of the meeting, "It was a very military presentation" when members were looking for "a little humanity."
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the lawmakers kicked out of the February meeting with immigration officials, said the meeting with Kelly offered few reassurances. "As long as they see Latinos as criminals, as a threat, as a 'threat to their civilization,' I think it makes it impossible to sit down," he said.
Lawmakers also had questions about President Donald Trump's executive order banning travelers to the U.S. from majority-Muslim countries, which Kelly said the administration was ready to argue all the way up to the Supreme Court.