It’s not about money; it’s about a cruel policy choice.
That’s how a freshman congresswoman slammed the head of Homeland Security in a Wednesday hearing when he suggested more funding could’ve prevented the deaths of five migrant children under the government’s watch since December.
“Our immigration system is full, and we are well beyond our capacity at every stage of the process,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told Congress during the budget hearing. “This means that new waves of vulnerable populations arriving at our border are exacerbating the already-urgent humanitarian and security crisis we are facing.”
McAleenan warned the agency’s resources aren’t robust enough to meet that demand, adding the country continues “to face tragedies at the border, particularly in regard to safety of children.”
Rep. Lauren Underwood, an Illinois Democrat, wouldn’t have it.
“People keep dying,” she said. “So this is obviously a question of more than resources. Evidence is really clear that it’s intentional. It’s a policy choice being made by this administration, and it’s cruel and inhumane.”
“That’s an appalling accusation,” replied McAleenan, who took over after DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen stepped down in April.
Underwood clarified later that she wasn’t accusing McAleenan of murder, but her comments were struck from the Congressional record anyway.
“You cannot impugn the character of the witness by stating that he intentionally murders children,” Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama, said. “That is completely inappropriate.”
“She didn’t say murder,” the committee’s chairman, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, responded.
As McAleenan told the committee, the country is facing an unprecedented wave of migration — particularly from Central American families seeking their legal right to asylum. That’s left border facilities overcrowded and overburdened, while Democrats have repeatedly charged the U.S. Center for Border Protection is woefully unprepared to handle the young children arriving at the southern border. That’s only escalated in the wake of the five deaths, the most recent one being this week.
Republicans, meanwhile, charged that harm to children could be alleviated with greater agency funding and a reformed asylum process. A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy, Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, was found dead in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley detention facility on Monday, though the cause of that death has not been made public. He was apprehended by U.S. immigration authorities on May 13, and came down with the flu days later, according to CBS News. The Rio Grande Valley processing center in McAllen, Texas has since temporarily closed due to a high number of flu cases.
Separately, a 2 ½-year-old boy died after he was detained on April 3 and sent to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, due to an illness. Another Guatemalan 16-year-old, named Juan de León Gutierrez, died in the custody of Health and Human Services on April 30. Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old, died in December under the custody of CBP.
Cover: House Homeland Security Committee member Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., questions Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 22, 2019, during the House Homeland Security Committee on budget. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)