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Ruben Kihuen On The Meeting With ICE, And The Fear In The Immigrant Community

A photo released Tuesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows people being arrested during an ICE operation.
Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/AP

A photo released Tuesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows people being arrested during an ICE operation.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (or ICE) has been stepping up round-ups lately, after an executive order by President Trump gave broad latitude for immigration officials to arrest people who previously were considered to not have broken the law.

People are afraid, and Hispanic congressional leaders wanted information.

But many members of the House Hispanic Caucus were kept out of a meeting last week with ICE officials – a meeting they say they had called for.

One of the congressmen standing in the hallway last Wednesday was newly elected Nevada Congressman Ruben Kihuen.

“Obviously, they knew we were going to ask the tough questions that our constituents are asking,” he told KNPR's State of Nevada.

He said many of his constituents in Congressional District 4 are worried about what could happen to them. Tuesday, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly outlined the new rules tightening enforcement of immigration law. 

For many years, undocumented immigrants, who didn't commit a serious crime, were usually not deported. That has changed, according to Kihuen.

“They basically expanded the definition of who can get deported," he explained, "The bottom line is if you’re here undocumented period you can get deported. So it’s no longer just a criminal.”

Kihuen said he has had people at town hall meetings come up to him with tears in their eyes worried that they may be deported, separating them from their families. 

“This is real life. These are real people,” Kihuen said, “I think it is important to know this is about families. This is about real people.”

Kihuen understands first hand the struggle of many undocumented immigrants. He was an undocumented immigrant. However, he was covered under President Ronald Reagan's policy in the 80s that allowed certain people who were undocumented to apply for citizenship.

“I’m the first former undocumented member of Congress in the history of America," he said.

He believes finding a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and become documented is what America is all about.

“Right now, we’re talking about the fabric of America what makes this country great,” he said, “For me, it is about keeping that American dream alive. It is about maintaining that fabric that makes this country great."

Kihuen said people who are in the country illegally want to come out of the shadows and follow the law, if they were given the chance.

“Most of them are people who have stayed out of trouble, who are willing to pass a background check, they’re willing to stand in the back of the line, they’re willing to learn the English language to be able to become residents but we have to offer them that opportunity,” he said.

However creating that opportunity might be a lot more difficult, Kihuen is frustrated by the lack of bipartisanism he's seen in the few weeks he's been in Congress and he's frustrated by the rhetoric used by President Donald Trump.

“Now, with Donald Trump coming in as president, instead of uniting our country he’s dividing our country,” he said.

Kihuen said Pres. Trump is acting more like a dictator by issuing executive orders instead of reaching out to both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to come up with solutions. 

Although frustrated, Kihuen said meeting with and hearing from the people he represents keeps him focused:

“As long as I have this fire in the belly to continue serving the people of Nevada, I will continue working with both Republicans and Democrats to come up with solutions to the problems that we have.” 

Congressman Ruben Kihuen (D) - NV.

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)