WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spoke on Wednesday of a worsening “humanitarian crisis” on the US border with Mexico and argued that a physical barrier is needed.
“We face a crisis – a real, serious, and sustained crisis at our borders,” Nielsen said during a hearing on President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration before the House Homeland Security Committee. “Make no mistake: this chain of human misery is getting worse.”
Nielsen cited the report released on Tuesday by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in which the agency announced that the number of irregular border crossings doubled in February compared with the same month in 2018 and set a record for the past 12 years.
In all, 76,103 migrants were detained on the country’s southern frontier compared to 36,751 in February 2018, the CBP said.
Nielsen said that the February 2019 figure was an 80 percent increase over the same month the year before, adding that the CBP predicts that the situation will worsen this spring when the weather improves.
The February figure was 31 percent higher than in January, during which 58,207 migrants were detained,
Nielsen said that the border is a conduit for criminals, drugs and people trafficking.
When asked about the national emergency declaration, the secretary said that “There is an emergency. I have seen the vulnerable populations. This is a true humanitarian crisis that the system is enabling. We have to change the laws.”
Issuing an emergency declaration allows presidents to temporarily obtain special powers to deal with a crisis, and Trump declared one on Feb. 15 claiming that an “invasion” of drugs and criminals along the southern border justified extraordinary measures.
With the decree, Trump is aiming to collect $6.6 billion from various quarters where those funds have already been allocated by Congress to add to the $1.375 billion authorized by lawmakers to build portions of the border wall.
The House approved a resolution against the emergency declaration and now it is pending in the Senate, where it is anticipated that the upper house will also vote against the declaration in the coming days.
However, Trump has the power to veto the measure and return it to Congress, which then would have to muster the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers in both chambers to override that veto, a situation that seems to be unlikely.