WASHINGTON, June 19: The Trump administration today defended its controversial “zero tolerance” border policy of separating immigrant parents and their children on the US border, and alleged that Democrats do not want to have a comprehensive solution to the current immigration crisis.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, under President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents and guardians and placed into holding facilities between April 19 and May 31 of this year.
“This entire crisis, just to be clear, is not new. It’s been occurring and expanded over many decades. But currently, it is the exclusive product of loopholes in our federal immigration laws that prevent illegal immigrant minors and family members from being detained and removed to their home countries,” Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters at a White House news conference.
In other words, these loopholes create a functionally open border, she said, noting that apprehension without detention and removal is not border security.
“We have repeatedly called on Congress to close these loopholes,” Nielsen said.
She said that in the last three months, illegal immigration on southern border exceed 50,000 people each month. Since last year, there has been a 325 per cent increase in unaccompanied alien children and a 435 per cent increase in family units entering the country illegally.
“Over the last 10 years, there has been a 1,700 per cent increase in asylum claims, resulting in asylum backlog to date, on our country, of 600,000 cases,” Nielsen said.
Since 2013, the US has admitted more than half a million illegal immigrant minors and family units from Central America, most of whom today are at large in the US.
At the same time, large criminal groups such as MS-13 have violated the US borders and gained a deadly foothold within the US, the Homeland Security Secretary said.
Nielsen asserted that the Trump administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border.
“We have a statutory responsibility that we take seriously to protect alien children from human smuggling, trafficking and other criminal actions while enforcing our immigration laws,” she said.
Asserting that there has been a long-existing policy, she said multiple administrations have followed that outline when they may take action to protect children.
“We will separate those who claim to be a parent and child if we cannot determine a familial or custodial relationship exists.
“For example, if there’s no documentation to confirm the claimed relationship between an adult and a child, we do so if the parent is a national security, public or safety risk, including when there are criminal charges at issue and it may not be appropriate to maintain the family in detention together,” Nielsen said.
The system also separates a parent and child if the adult is suspected of human trafficking, she explained.
There have been cases where minors have been used and trafficked by unrelated adults in an effort to avoid detention, Nielsen claimed.
“In the last five months, we have a 314 per cent increase in adults and children arriving at the border, fraudulently claiming to be a family unit. This is, obviously, of concern,” she said.
The top Trump administration official said that she has not seen the photos of children in cages.
“The image that I want of this country is an immigration system that secures our borders and upholds our humanitarian ideals. Congress needs to fix it,” Nielsen said.
Meanwhile, Congressman Bennie Thompson, Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, in a letter to Nielsen expressed his concern and requested more information regarding US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) recent transfer of 1,600 detainees to five federal prisons due to President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.
“The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy punishes asylum seekers and separates children from their parents at the border. Ill-prepared for the inevitable consequences of its own misguided and inhumane policy, the administration has now begun to shuffle immigrant detainees to federal prisons and place thousands of children in one or more tent cities along the border.
“This administration’s response to our broken immigration system, much to the fault of its own making, continues to be inhumane and un-American,” he said.
Senator Tina Smith called on Nielsen to resign amid families being cruelly separated at the border, which is a policy she oversees in her leadership role within the Trump administration.
Democratic Leader Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who visited San Diego Immigration Detention Facilities, said that this is not an immigration issue but a humanitarian issue. It’s about the children. It’s also about people seeking asylum.
The public outcry in the wake of images and stories of the children caught in the middle of Trump’s controversial immigration policy has sparked fierce debate in the US.
In a rare statement on a policy issue, First Lady Melania Trump weighed in through her spokeswoman on the immigration crisis, saying she “hates to see children separated from their families”. (PTI)