Miami Republicans worry about Trump deportations: ‘You’re going to catch a lot of good people’

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spoke at an event highlighting the economic contributions of immigrants to Miami’s tech industry.
U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spoke at an event highlighting the economic contributions of immigrants to Miami’s tech industry. jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Two Miami Republicans in Congress questioned on Tuesday the Trump administration’s new policy exposing to deportation nearly all immigrants illegally in the country.

U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were speaking at an event highlighting the contribution of immigrants to Miami’s fledgling tech industry when the Department of Homeland Security announced its rules expanding the categories of people prioritized for removal — a reversal from the Obama administration, which deported more people than previous presidents but said it focused on expelling criminals.

“I worry that when you cast a wide net, you’re going to catch some criminals — but you’re going to catch a lot of good people who don’t have papers but they have not committed violent crimes,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba. “This is a community that has been immigrant-friendly.”

Curbelo agreed, saying there is “broad consensus” to deport “people who are here with the goal of doing us harm.”

“I’d like to encourage the administration to keep the focus on deporting dangerous criminals,” said Curbelo, the son of Cuban immigrants. “Also, I would encourage the administration to try to keep families together as much as possible.”

The congressman did thank President Donald Trump for not pushing — at least for now — to undo the protections offered to people brought into the country illegally as children by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“We’re going to try and take care of the DREAMers very, very much,” Trump told MSNBC on Tuesday.

“My hope is that we can find in the near future a legislative solution for these young people — those who are contributing to our country, going to school, serving in the military,” Curbelo said. “It’s important to highlight that that protection was preserved because many had feared that these young people would be subject to deportation.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday the administration will first target criminals, though the Homeland Security guidance calls for more aggressive across-the-board enforcement.

“The No. 1 priority is that people who pose a threat to this country are immediately dealt with,” Spicer said, while noting that “everybody who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time.”

Both Miami lawmakers represent districts that lean slightly Democratic, though the two Republicans easily won reelection last November. Neither voted for Trump; Curbelo has said he voted for a third-party candidate, and Ros-Lehtinen has said she wrote in Jeb Bush.

Aides to Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen said their offices have been deluged with calls from immigrants, both legal and illegal, concerned about deportations or their immigration status otherwise being threatened.

In a bit of serendipitous timing with the release of Homeland Security’s rules Tuesday, Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo — along with Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez — spent the morning at downtown Miami’s Venture Hive, an entrepreneurship accelerator that was showcasing start-up companies created by immigrants.

The topic of immigration has had segments of multicultural Miami on edge since Trump’s inauguration, particularly after he issued a pair of executive orders targeting “sanctuary” municipalities and banning certain travel and refugee admissions. Last week, the Miami-Dade County Commission backed Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s move to effectively end the county’s sanctuary status by complying with inmate detention requests from federal immigration authorities.

“If I were the mayor, I wouldn’t have taken that immediate action,” Curbelo said, calling Miami-Dade’s decision a consequence of Congress’ inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“We understand the positive impact that immigrants can make,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We understand that we’re a nation of laws as well. But the emphasis was going to be that we deport violent criminals, and nobody is against that. But for somebody who is here and wants a better life for her family and is struggling in a job where she’s probably being exploited … she wants to be a valuable member of society.”