Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is requesting Congress pass a legislative measure that gives her department greater authority to address the growing migrant crisis at the U.S. southern border.
Nielsen asked lawmakers to make it easier for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deport unaccompanied alien children (UAC), to allow migrants file asylum requests within their home countries, and for the authority to keep families requesting asylum in detention facilities until their cases are complete, according to a letter first obtained by NBC News.
The measures would help alleviate what Ni
elsen describes as an “emergency situation” at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We are grappling with a humanitarian and security catastrophe that is worsening by the day, and the Department has run out of capacity, despite extraordinary intra-Departmental and interagency efforts,” Nielsen’s letter to Congress read. “Accordingly, DHS requests immediate Congressional assistance to stabilize the situation.”
The requests come as the country’s southern border is witnessing record levels of illegal border crossings.
The DHS apprehended 50,000 to 60,000 illegal migrants a month in late 2018. Over 75,000 apprehensions and encounters were made in February — the highest volume in over ten years. DHS forecasts March to be another record-breaker, with apprehensions expected to near 100,000. This month has already witnessed back-to-back records in single day apprehensions.
“Our men and women on the frontlines are simply not resourced to handle these levels, and I report to you today that we are struggling to transport and process — let alone adequately care for — this many individuals coming into our custody, especially those in hard-to-reach areas,” Nielsen continued.
Many of the illegal migrants apprehended by law enforcement are children. In a speech on Wednesday, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan stated that nearly 40,000 children will be taken into his agency’s custody in March alone, overwhelming the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) facilities that must care for them.
Trafficking laws mandate that children who hail from noncontiguous countries –countries other than Mexico or Canada — must be placed under the care of HHS officials, who then try to reunite them with a relative or sponsor living in the U.S. This number of noncontiguous children arriving at the southern border has exploded in recent months as most illegal immigrants are coming from Central America.
Nielsen stated that HHS “is still approaching its maximum capacity and will very likely require thousands of additional beds in the coming weeks and months,” and she warned that the current laws create an incentive for Central American children to arrive in droves.
The Homeland Secretary will send Congress her desired legislative language, a proposal she argues will help fix the situation. However, it’s not clear if such a request could pass while Democrats — increasingly wary of border immigration enforcement measures — control the House of Representatives.
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