Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Tuesday defended the Trump administration’s actions on the southern border, saying it’s now on Congress to fix the problem, while Democrats grilled him on tariff negotiations with Mexico and the state of children separated from their families.
“It’s been over 18 months for 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 told a Senate panel Tuesday.
During the two hour-plus hearing, senators pointed fingers at the Trump administration and each other for not passing previous legislation designed to assist the southern border.
President Donald Trump started his term with Republican control of the House and Senate and a focus on constructing his signature border wall. During that time, legislation still struggled to move forward and the wall has not made much headway. Since then, the situation along the border has worsened and the House has turned over to Democratic control, making it more difficult to pass legislation.
“This crisis is unlike anything our country has ever faced,” McAleenan said, citing a 623% increase in “total enforcement actions” this May compared to May 2017.The US has been facing a dramatic spike in apprehensions along the southern border.
In May, the Border Patrol arrested nearly 133,000 migrants, according to Customs and Border Protection data, including more than 11,000 unaccompanied children. The shift in demographics — from single adults to families and children predominantly from Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — has presented its own set of challenges to the Department of Homeland Security.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said the breaking point “has long passed” and warned that without resources “there will come a point to where we’ll have complete, absolute failure to control, our border, and we are getting there daily.”
Graham also acknowledged that a border wall “will not fix this problem.”
“The only way a wall would fix this problem is to build it in Mexico, so they never step foot in the United States,” he said. “But once you put one foot in the United States and you claim asylum, we have a major dysfunctional system.”
McAleenan also conceded that the wall “is for the border security problem,” noting that migrants are turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will consider a major funding bill next week, Graham said. The measure will include $3.3 billion for “humanitarian assistance” that will increase shelter capacity for unaccompanied migrant children and the feeding and care of those in custody. It will also include $1.1 billion for “operations support” including funding for more detention beds, he said.
Despite tense exchanges throughout Tuesday’s hearing, McAleenan earned praise by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”I hope the President will nominate you to be DHS secretary in a permanent fashion. I cannot think of anybody I have ever met that is more capable of doing the job under difficult circumstances,” Graham said at the conclusion of the hearing.
McAleenan has not publicly expressed interest in the post.
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