(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) on Wednesday accused acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan of allowing migrant children to die while in the custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
During a House Homeland Security Committee on the Department of Homeland Security’s 2020 budget request, Underwood first grilled McAleenan on the effects that family separation has on migrant children. Then she noted that five children have died while in CBP custody and accused the department of intentionally causing their deaths because of their policy.
“The truth is, sir, that family separation does irreparable damage to children while doing nothing for our national security. It’s immoral. It’s un-American, and it’s just plain wrong, and I am glad to hear you say that it’s not happening, sir, but I went to the border last month, and I was truly shocked by the conditions that I saw there. Medical care was inconsistent at best, and the accommodations were inadequate,” Underwood said.
“Just last week, we saw new photos of detained children sleeping outside on the dirt at a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, and Monday, we learned that 5th migrant child died in custody since family separation began. These stories are appalling, and yet, they keep happening. Now, Congress just provided half a billion dollars in February to address the humanitarian crisis at the border and will soon provide more. Why do these tragedies keep happening?” she asked.
McAleenan said that DHS needs more money and authority to deal with the migrant crisis beyond what was allocated by Congress in February, because migrants are crossing the border in larger numbers now, and the demand has already exceeded DHS’s resources.
“So they’re happening because the crisis is exceeding the resources provided. That’s why we’ve asked for more, and we’ve asked for more authority to deal with it to prevent this crisis from happening in the first place and from the children being put at risk,” the acting secretary said.
“We’ve deployed the funding from FY19 that Congress has authorized. We’ve increased our temporary facilities by 500 beds in Donna, by 500 in El Paso. We’ve got three additional soft-sided facilities coming online in June. We’ve deployed medical practitioners. We now have over 100 certified medical practitioners in our two busiest sectors. We’ve asked for more money to extend that,” he said.
Underwood said the administration’s family separation policy – which is no longer in effect – is to blame for children dying in custody, and she said “the evidence” is clear that “it’s intentional.”
“Right, but people keep dying, sir. People keep dying, and so this is obviously more than a question of resources. Congress has been more than willing to provide the resources and work with you to address the security and humanitarian concerns, but at this point, with five kids that have died, 5,000 separated from their families, I feel like - and the evidence is really clear – that this is intentional. It’s intentional. It’s a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration, and it’s cruel and inhumane,” she said.
McAleenan called Underwood’s accusation “appalling,” adding that CBP fights hard to protect illegal immigrants in their custody and that Congress has yet to respond to the administration’s request for additional resources, which was submitted three weeks ago, which would have prevented their deaths.
“That’s an appalling accusation, and our men and women fight hard to protect people in our custody every single day. We’ve asked for these resources three weeks ago. It hasn’t been responded to by Congress, and we’ve asked for changes in authority for the last three years that would have prevented this from happening,” he said.
Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said he has been asked to ask Underwood to clarify her statement for the record.
“I would be happy to, Mr. Chairman. I said that this is more than a question of resources. Congress has been more than willing to provide resources and resources and to work with you, Mr. Secretary, to address these security and humanitarian concerns, and at this point, with five children dead and 5,000 separated from their families, this is intentional. It’s a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration, and it’s cruel and inhumane,” Underwood said.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member on the committee, interjected, saying, “Mr. Chairman, you cannot impugn the character of the witness by stating that he intentionally murders children. It’s completely inappropriate, and her words should be taken down. She’s very explicit.”
THOMPSON: And I asked her to rephrase it. She just did.
ROGERS: She did not. She restated it.
UNDERWOOD: I restated. I did not say murder. I said five died as a result of a policy choice that he has said … He has said that he stands by the policy decisions of this administration. That’s what he said at the beginning of his testimony, and he says he stands by the budget request. This is a policy choice.
ROGERS: And he said the policy is they stopped those detentions. They don’t do any of those separations. He’s made that clear repeatedly. You refused to listen to him. That’s not the point. You said he supported policies that caused the death of children. That is wrong, and your words need to be taken down, and Mr. Chairman, you need to do it.
UNDERWOOD: Mr. Ranking Member, this happened this week. Yesterday, another child died under his leadership.
ROGERS: Because we can’t get the resources to help them. That’s what he’s here to finally get is the money to stop this.
Thompson banged his gavel, then said he wouldn’t take the vote to take down the words. He ruled that “the language is appropriate and that it should not be taken down.” A request for a recorded vote was called.
“The words will be taken down,” Thompson said after the vote was taken.