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Titus, other Democrats grill Homeland Security secretary

Updated March 6, 2019 - 11:21 pm

WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended Trump administration immigration policies and the president’s declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the situation is not a manufactured crisis.

“This is truly an emergency,” Nielsen said during a House hearing Wednesday, where Democrats criticized policies that included the separation of families seeking asylum at the border and the housing of children in protective spaces that lawmakers referred to as “cages.”

The House Homeland Security Committee hearing followed the release this week of new statistics by U.S. Customs and Border Protection showing families and children crossing the border in record numbers.

In February, agents stopped 36,000 families along the border, a record high, and Nielsen said apprehensions are on pace to exceed 1 million for the fiscal year.

She said the current immigration system is dangerous for Americans, dangerous for immigrants and in need of comprehensive policy reform.

“It undermines our nation’s values, and it fails to uphold our fundamental obligations to the American people,” Nielsen said.

But Democrats, who now control the House, were quick to note that the increase in apprehensions was due, in part, to changes in administration policy that are preventing some immigrants from applying for asylum at legal ports of entry.

And they were critical of other White House actions.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., a member of the committee, quizzed the secretary on the status of Dreamers, immigrants brought into the country as children and granted deportation protections by the Obama administration.

Trump allowed the program to expire in September, but federal courts have upheld the right of the roughly 800,000 Dreamers to retain their protected status.

Nielsen told Titus she did not see Dreamers as a national security threat and said she has met a Dreamer through legal proceedings.

“I have 13,000 Dreamers in my district,” Titus replied.

The representative from Las Vegas also questioned why Nielsen did not have answers for many of the questions asked by Democratic lawmakers, but seemed prepared and quick with responses when it came to inquiries from the GOP members.

“I wonder if this has been orchestrated,” Titus said.

Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., questioned Nielsen on the use of cages to house children in border facilities operated for the Homeland Security Department. She said the chain-link fenced areas were protective spaces and did not acknowledge the term cages.

“I saw the fences that were made as cages as you did, too,” Thompson told Nielsen. “If it’s bad policy, then change it, but don’t mislead the committee.”

The hearing and Nielsen’s testimony came after the House passed a resolution of disapproval to terminate Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border in order to redirect funds from other programs to build a barrier along the border.

The Senate is expected to pass the same resolution next week, with bipartisan support. Trump has vowed to veto the bill and force an override vote in the House, where Democrats are unlikely to get enough GOP help to reach the two-thirds majority needed to overcome the veto.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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