"The system is at full capacity." That’s according to Border Patrol agents who spoke about immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border last week. In February, a record 66,000 migrants tried to cross, or requested asylum, at the southern border. It was the highest total for a single month in almost a decade.
In years past, the majority of migrants crossing the border were single men from Mexico. But, now, it’s entirely flipped — the majority of migrants are Central American families, especially those from Guatemala.
Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security. Last week, the committee questioned Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about family separation at the border.
Underwood spoke with On Point's Meghna Chakrabarti about border security, President Trump's budget proposal asking for an additional $8.6 billion and more on Monday.
On President Trump's 2020 budget proposal requesting $8.6 billion more for a border wall, and whether that could lead to another showdown
"I think that this is an interesting dynamic. We just saw the U.S. House of Representatives, in a bipartisan way, pass a resolution that is in response to the president's emergency declaration. That happened at the end of February. Just last week when Secretary Nielsen came to testify before a committee, she identified cybersecurity as a greater threat to our national security than border security. She said it herself. And now we have the president again trying to circumvent the Congress' role, again, as appropriators by requesting even larger sums of money for a wasteful and inefficient border wall. I don't know what the president is hoping to accomplish with this request. However, we will continue to do our work to make sure the U.S. southern border is appropriately protected and that the American people can rest assured about the safety and security of the United States."
On reporting that families are still being separated at the southern border
"I think it's unacceptable. We heard Secretary Nielsen deny that a family separation policy formally existed. She refused to offer us exact figures on the number of children being held in detention. She didn't know the numbers — was not able to offer any specifics. We receive news reports every day that demonstrate that this is continuing on. We know it's likely thousands of children being impacted. And in order for the committee to be able to do the very important oversight work, we need candor and we need cooperation from the Department of Homeland Security."
"I don't know what the president is hoping to accomplish with this request. However, we will continue to do our work to make sure the U.S. southern border is appropriately protected."Rep. Lauren Underwood
On Secretary Nielsen's comments that the issue is parents deciding to bring their children to the border
"I think that we are very clearly in the middle of a humanitarian crisis where a number of individuals from many countries are seeking asylum in the United States. We have a responsibility to offer those individuals who present themselves at the border seeking asylum with humanitarian treatment, meaning recognizing the humanity in these individuals, making sure they have access to food and medical care. We saw two young children die at the end of last year because they did not get the needed medical treatment, and that is that is our obligation as the United States government. Now it is very clear that the Department of Homeland Security perhaps doesn't share those values, but it is reflected in current U.S. policy that that is how folks should be treated. And so it is our job as the Homeland Security Committee to make sure that the department is complying with those policies."
"We have a responsibility to offer those individuals who present themselves at the border seeking asylum with humanitarian treatment."Rep. Lauren Underwood
On what the Homeland Security Committee can do right now
"We can do many things. As we get the information about the volume, the number of individuals that we're talking about, we can certainly make more financial resources available for additional officers. Throughout the testimony, Secretary Nielsen was unwilling to acknowledge the number of vacancies that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has, and we have authorized funding for a number of new officers. You may recall during the recent appropriations that were passed when the government reopened that we approved funding for additional judges to process the number of individuals seeking asylum at the border. We know that we did not have enough judges to move through those cases quickly. We are willing to provide the resources needed, but we just need the information in order to respond accordingly. So this is both about authorizing programs, appropriating resources and providing oversight as delineated in Article 1 of the Constitution."
Alex Schroeder adapted this interview for the web.