DHS chief to Pelosi: Emergency border funding 'has already had an impact'

DHS chief to Pelosi: Emergency border funding 'has already had an impact'
© Aaron Schwartz

Emergency funding has already improved conditions for migrants and agents along the U.S.-Mexico border, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said this week in a letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday Impeachment witness to meet with Senate GOP Tuesday Press: Pelosi strikes back, hatred is a sin MORE (D-Calif.).

McAleenan described measures the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken in response to reports of mistreatment of migrants, particularly children, at detention centers along the southern border.

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"The supplemental funding provided by Congress meets immediate acute needs at the border and has already improved conditions for children," wrote McAleenan in the letter dated Wednesday but released Friday by DHS.

Late last month, Congress approved a $4.6 billion emergency funding bill to address issues related to the increase in migrants arriving at the U.S. border. That bill opened a rift among House Democratic lawmakers, as progressives panned Pelosi for allowing a vote on the Senate-passed version, which they said lacked appropriate humanitarian safeguards.

McAleenan, who testified Thursday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on conditions at detention centers, also used Wednesday's letter to push back on allegations that DHS agencies like Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Border Patrol are in any way skimping on migrant care.

"No law enforcement agency in the United States is bringing more medical capability to ensure the health and safety of those it encounters or holds in custody than CBP," he wrote.

McAleenan requested a meeting with Pelosi to give "a comprehensive briefing on our efforts to date and our future plans to mitigate the human impact of this crisis to better inform our continued collaboration at this critical time."

He also attached to the letter a seven-page memo outlining CBP and Border Patrol's standards of care, oversight, family notification and medical care.

The memo highlighted CBP’s 2015 National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention and Search, a set of guidelines for detainee care. McAleenan said he helped finalize and implement those standards when he was deputy commissioner of CBP.

In his letter, McAleenan cited the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA) as guidelines for CBP and Border Patrol humanitarian actions.

"In many cases, it is a combination of the TVPRA and the FSA that established baseline 'requirements for ensuring the provision of water, appropriate nutrition hygiene and sanitation needs,' and 'standards for temporary holding facilities that adhere to the best practices for the care of children' you reference in your letter," McAleenan wrote.

The FSA is a court-mandated guideline of care that stemmed from a 1987 class-action lawsuit on treatment of detained minors.

But reports about the level of care led to a tense exchange at Thursday's hearing between Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsImpeachment can't wait Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings Tucker Carlson calls Trump 'full-blown BS artist' in segment defending him from media coverage MORE (D-Md.) and McAleenan, who said the agency is doing its "level best" to cope with the influx of migrants at the border.

"What does that mean? What does that mean when a child is sitting in their own feces, can't take a shower? Come on, man. What's that about? None of us would have our children in that position. They are human beings," Cummings said.

The Trump administration has referred to TVPRA and FSA as "loopholes," arguing they allow for migrants to fraudulently claim asylum in the United States.

The administration's demands to legislatively do away with the TVPRA and FSA have been a key sticking point in attempts at negotiations on immigration reform.

McAleenan wrote in his letter to Pelosi that the TVPRA and FSA have had a negative effect.

"As you know, DHS believes that both the TVPRA and the FSA must be amended to prevent the continued exploitation of unintended loopholes that serve as 'pull factors,' enticing migrants to attempt to enter the country illegally," he wrote.

Updated at 11:21 a.m.