(DHS Official Photo/Jetta Disco)

Homeland Security Committee Asks Nielsen to Testify on ‘Failed Border Security Agenda’

It took just one day of Democratic control of the 116th Congress before the House Committee on Homeland Security requested that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testify on the Trump administration’s security policies at the Mexican border.

On Friday, Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) sent Nielsen a letter requesting that she testify about the “Administration’s failed border security agenda.”

“The Committee’s first hearing will focus on critical border security matters, to include the border wall, metering of individuals seeking asylum at ports of entry, and the treatment of children in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody. As such, I request your participation,” Thompson wrote.

The White House’s Letter to Congress

Meanwhile, President Trump on Friday said in the Rose Garden that the partial government shutdown, which is affecting 800,000 federal employees, could last months and even years unless Congress caves on his $5.7 billion budget request. The president was joined by Vice President Pence, Nielsen and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). It was Trump’s second appearance in front of the cameras since Congress reconvened on Jan. 3

The president submitted a letter to all members of Congress on Friday, and included a presentation that Nielsen reportedly had planned to deliver this week to members of congress in the White House Situation Room.

“Illegal immigration is NOT progressive — by every measure, it is unfair, unjust, uncompassionate, and cruel,” Trump’s letter said. “Many people are killed. It hurts both those who make the journey and so many communities bearing the cost in lives, safety and dollars.”

SEE: Border Patrol Deploys Tear Gas, Pepper Spray to Deter 150 New Year’s Eve Migrants

Nielsen’s presentation declared that the border situation is a “humanitarian crisis” and included the following statistics: 

  • One out of every three migrant women is sexually assaulted on the journey northward to the U.S. border; 50 illegal migrants a day are referred for emergency medical care and CBP rescues 4,300 people a year who are in danger and distress.
  • CBP arrested 17,000 adults at the border with existing criminal records in fiscal year 2018.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested 235,000 aliens on various criminal charges or convictions in the U.S., including 100,000 for assault, 30,000 for sex crimes and 4,000 for homicides.
  • An average of 60,000 migrants are now illegally entering the country per month, including 20,000 minors smuggled into the U.S. last month.
  • The immigration court backlog is nearly 800,000 cases.

Nielsen, when asked about Trump’s claim that terrorists are crossing the border, told reporters that CBP has “stopped” more than 3,000 “special interest aliens” trying to get in the country on the southern border.

“Those are aliens who the intel community has identified are of concern, they either have travel patterns that are identified as terrorist travel patterns, or they have known or suspected ties to terrorism,” Nielsen said. “So, we have 3,000 that we know about. I think what the president continues to make clear is it’s our sovereign duty to know who comes into our country. Without any kind of a structure and without changing the laws, we have no way to know the identity of every person that walks across the unsecured border.”

Committee Requesting Border Documentation 

Thompson requested that Nielsen submit all documents, records, memos, correspondence or other communications related to the recent deaths of two Guatemalan children in CBP custody: 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died on Dec. 8, and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, who passed away on Dec. 24. After Alonzo-Gomez’s death, Nielsen ordered secondary health checks on all children in CBP custody.

Read: CBP Says Agents Tried to Revive 7-Year-Old Guatemalan Girl Who Died in Custody
More: CBP to Conduct Secondary Medical Checks on Children After Guatemalan Child Dies Dec. 24

Specifically, Thompson requested that by Jan. 18 Nielsen submit in writing all documents, records, memos, correspondence or other communications related to: 

  • Ongoing or planned construction of a border wall, including operational requirements assessments, cost estimates and schedules.
  • Metering individuals at land ports of entry, including the number of CBP officers processing such individuals; directives or guidance from headquarters to the field regarding the number of individuals to be processed and the number of individuals processed by port of entry.
  • The interdiction of families between ports of entry by U.S. Border Patrol from June 1, 2016, to the present, including the ages of children interdicted and actions taken with respect to such children.

Nielsen last testified before the committee on Dec. 20, when it was still under Republican control. At the hearing, she announced “historic” measures granting DHS the authority to return individuals entering the U.S. from Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings. The migrants are then presented with a “notice to appear” for an immigration court hearing.

See: Nielsen: New ‘Catch and Return’ Rule in Effect to Make Asylum-Seekers Wait in Mexico

Thompson wrote that Nielsen’s next appearance before the committee is “overdue.”

“Your border security presentation submitted to Congress today is yet another example of the misinformation and outright lies the Trump Administration has used to make the case for the President’s boondoggle border wall, defend the government shutdown and distract the American people from a border policy so flawed that children have died in the Department of Homeland Security custody,” Thompson wrote in his letter. “Squandering American taxpayer money on a wall may satisfy a segment of the President’s political supporters, but it will not solve the real border security challenges facing our Nation.”

More on the Government Shutdown: 

Multimedia journalist James Cullum is Managing Editor of Homeland Security Today's Federal Pages. He has reported for over a decade to newspapers, magazines and websites in the D.C. metro area. He excels at finding order in chaotic environments, from slave liberations in South Sudan to the halls of the power in Washington, D.C.

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