Former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chief Thomas Homan told a House panel Friday that migrant families seeking asylum should wait out their legal process in detention.
“If these families are in fact escaping fear and persecution from their government, there should be no reason not to detain them to plead their case to a judge,” he said in his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “Being in a family residential center, safe from their country’s alleged oppression, should be acceptable.”
Homan offered his testimony at a hearing on the aftermath of family separations and conditions at migrant detention centers at the southern border.
He told lawmakers he agreed to appear before the committee because he "truly believe[s] our national security and sovereignty as a nation is at great risk."
“The current crisis extends well beyond our southern border, it affects almost every major city in the United States," the 34-year law enforcement veteran said. "This isn’t just a border crisis, it’s a national crisis."
Homan added that a July 2018 resolution by a 9th Circuit judge to maintain migrant protections under what’s known as the Flores settlement “did more harm to this country than any federal ruling that I am aware of in my three-decade career.”
Flores is a court settlement that mandates minimum standards for the detention of children and a maximum detention time of 20 days.
Homan was acting director of ICE last year when the Trump administration enforced its "zero tolerance" policy at the border, resulting in the separation of more than 2,800 children from their parents.
“Children have died in our care,” said Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibDemocratic bill would force Fed to defund fossil fuels Democrats brace for battle on Biden's .5 trillion spending plan 'Squad' members call on Biden to shut down Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota MORE (D-Mich.), a member of the committee who testified on an earlier panel at the hearing.
She added that leaving families in detention would be a risk in itself, arguing that detention centers are not up to international standards.
“Currently, much of these detentions are not following Flores, but they also are not following international human rights treaties that we're part of,” said Tlaib.
Homan pinned the blame on Congress for the humanitarian crisis at the border, saying it’s the legislative branch’s prerogative to change laws it doesn’t like.
“The country is counting on their representatives to keep them safe and control immigration,” Homan said. “If more foreign labor is needed, then fix the system, and come up with a legal method and stop asking Border Patrol or ICE to ignore the law."
He added that the “unprecedented attack and vilification of the men and women of ICE and the Border Patrol” is negatively affecting agent morale.
“They have to wake up every day and see the news reports and comments from representatives in Congress that they are Nazis, white supremacists, that they operate concentration camps, that they abuse women and children,” said Homan.
“Those that make those outrageous statements believe that once you decide to carry that ICE badge or the Border Patrol badge, that you lose your sense of humanity and love for another person,” he added.