With the Senate Appropriations Committee due to vote next week on President Trump’s request for $4.5 billion in emergency border funds, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told lawmakers Tuesday that cash is urgently needed to address the “unprecedented security and humanitarian crisis” at the southern border.
“It’s been over 18 months since the administration asked for the legislative fixes that would have prevented the current crisis and 40 days since we asked for the emergency funding necessary to manage it,” McAleenan said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “In the last 40 days, 60,000 children have entered into DHS custody both unaccompanied and as part of family units.”
Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said at the outset of the hearing that he believes “the game plan is that we’re going to take the $4.5 billion that was in the disaster package that was unfortunately taken out and mark it up next week as a stand-alone proposition.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) separately told reporters on Capitol Hill that he wanted a “clean” humanitarian assistance bill that will get support from both sides of the aisle. “If you put a lot of riders on it, it will never pass,” he said.
Out of the $4.5 billion in supplemental border funds requested by the administration, $3.3 billion is pegged for humanitarian aid, housing and migrant processing.
McAleenan welcomed movement on the bill, telling Judiciary Committee members that, if passed, the funding “would be applied within weeks to provide additional facilities for health and human services to prevent children from having to wait in Border Patrol stations and to improve the care of those in DHS custody while providing operational support and funding for the men and women of DHS managing the crisis.”
“Without it DHS will not be able to provide appropriate facilities and care, migrants will remain in custody at the border longer than necessary, and DHS will ultimately need to reprogram funding carefully appropriated by Congress from other critical Homeland Security priorities,” he warned.
Such reprogramming would have a “significant” impact, McAleenan added, “and affect nearly every component of the department.”
“I want to make clear that this crisis is unlike anything we’ve ever seen at our borders and it, in large part, is due to the gaps in our immigration laws that are driving it causing a dramatic demographic shift in the flow of illegal immigration to the United States that is placing children at unique and critical risk,” he added. “Historically, the vast majority of arriving aliens were single adult males from Mexico would could be quickly detained and removed. But now, the majority of family units and unaccompanied alien children, in fact, 72 percent of all border enforcement actions in May were associated with unaccompanied children and family units.”
Asked by Graham about the current pull factors, McAleenan replied, “Very simply, it’s our inability to get immigration results for families and to guarantee that unaccompanied children, if they come from other than Mexico or Canada, cannot be repatriated and that our asylum system is so backlogged that if you meet the initial credible fear bar you will be released and allowed to stay in the U.S. until a court hearing that could be years away.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked the secretary about Trump’s threats to cut aid to the trio of Central American nations — Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala — from which most of the current migrant flow originates.
“Do you think that’s been helpful?” she asked.
“So, the aid has been frozen to ensure that we have accountable partners and targeted programs that are making an impact, that have a return on investment,” McAleenan replied. “I think we need to continue to work with partners in Central America. That certainly my position as an acting secretary, recommending that to partners at State and to the White House. And I’ll continue to advocate.”
“According to reports two months ago, the president offered to pardon you if you were convicted of having border agents block asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. in defiance of U.S. law. Has anyone from the White House asked you to violate the law?” Klobuchar continued.
“No, no one has asked me to do anything illegal,” McAleenan responded, adding, “I’ve never been asked to do anything unlawful, nor would I.”