Police placed Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D) of Illinois in handcuffs briefly on Monday after he refused to leave a federal immigration office without getting answers about the fate of several detainees facing deportation.
Mr. Gutiérrez says he met with the regional Immigration Customs Enforcement, or ICE, director at a Chicago immigration office. He hoped to obtain information about the new immigration policy under President Trump and to advocate for several detained immigrants he says are peaceful, local community members who he says pose no threat to society.
But when ICE failed to provide Gutiérrez with the answers he was seeking, he refused to leave, staging a sit-in at the office along with several others. After receiving several warnings from officials, the congressman and other demonstrators were placed in plastic handcuffs and briefly detained. Officials released them later that day, and Gutiérrez called off the protest as business hours drew to a close.
"Their response was, 'We can't get you an answer today,' and if we don't leave, 'you will be arrested,' " Gutiérrez told reporters as he left the office. "We told them, 'Place the handcuffs (on us); we're ready to go to jail.' After they placed handcuffs on us, in moments, the bully kind of stopped being a bully and they took the handcuffs off of us."
As the minority party in every branch of government, Democrats face an uphill battle to block Mr. Trump’s policy changes. While his cabinet appointees and reform of the Affordable Care Act have triggered backlash and protest, Trump’s tough stance on immigration via ICE procedural changes and immigration orders have sparked perhaps the greatest dissent, as Democrats argue that the stance counters American values and stems from bias against racial and religious minorities.
Amid pressure from Democratic constituents, many legislators have spoken out against the administration or engaged in protest. Gutiérrez ramped up those efforts Monday, saying he was willing to be detained in order to send a message about the government’s treatment of undocumented immigrants.
Later on Monday, Gutiérrez said he staged the protest because he believes immigration officials are enforcing poor policies by targeting peaceful, undocumented immigrants rather than seeking out dangerous murderers, drug dealers, and rapists who are in the country illegally.
ICE spokeswoman Gail Montenegro said ICE officials had agreed to an "informational meeting" but were unable to assure Gutiérrez and the group of protesters, which included clergy members, that their concerns would be addressed.
This isn’t Gutiérrez's first arrest for protesting policies related to immigration. In an interview with CNN, he championed the act of civil disobedience and the need to resort to such methods during volatile times.
"We must as Americans confront our government when our government is wrong," he told Erin Burnett on “Out Front” Monday night. "Look, there's a lie, and the lie keeps repeating. [The lie is that] they're going after criminals, they're going after the bad people in the immigrant community."
Gutiérrez cited the case of Francisca Lino, a 50-year-old mother of US citizens, who lives outside Chicago and has spent two decades in the country. She was previously deported, but returned to the US upon marrying a citizen.
Despite having no violent or criminal past apart from a visa violation, Ms. Lino is scheduled to be deported in July.
It’s cases like hers, Gutiérrez says, that ICE agents should view sensitively through a more nuanced lens when enforcing immigration policy.
"The government has an obligation and a responsibility to use discretion as it applies the law," he said.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.