Nielsen in Yuma says ‘outdated laws’ are ‘main cause’ of border problems
PHOENIX — The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security called on Congress to address what she called a “humanitarian and security crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border while speaking in Yuma on Thursday.
Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was in the southern Arizona city to participate in a roundtable discussion with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials before traveling with President Donald Trump to visit the border wall in Calexico, California.
Nielsen said lawmakers need to update legislation and help slow down the crush of Central American migrants seeking asylum.
“Outdated laws and misguided court decisions have created essentially a free ticket into America. These outdated laws are the main cause of this emergency,” she said.
“They serve as an enormous pull factor to the United States, and smugglers and traffickers are lining their pockets by exploiting these laws. Changing them is the only way out of this emergency.”
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Nielsen criticized Border Patrol’s current “catch and release” method of apprehending people at the border.
“We need to be able to keep families together in custody so an immigration judge can quickly determine whether they have a legal and legitimate right to stay in the United States, rather than simply releasing them into our country where most end up disappearing before returning to their court date,” she said.
Nielsen also said laws forcing border agents to hold Central American unaccompanied minors in custody until they find a sponsor family need to change.
“This also includes being able to treat all children equally no matter their nationality, so that if they have no legal right to remain in the United States, they can be returned home to their families immediately and humanely,” she said.
She said the Trump administration is working to increase law enforcement and military presence on the border by asking for assistance from multiple agencies.
She also said the compact the U.S. signed last week with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador pressures those countries to help eliminate the flow of illegal traffic.
While border agents would normally encounter one group of 100 or more migrants per year, Nielsen said so far this fiscal year, they have come across more than 100 of those large groups.
She said March numbers have not yet been finalized, but it’s estimated that 100,000 migrants approached the U.S.-Mexico border last month, up from 76,000 in February.
“Congress must act. This is entirely unprecedented, and the humanitarian and security crisis will continue to get worse until Congress acts,” Nielsen said.
Border Patrol spokesman Jose Garibay told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Thursday that in the past three days, the Yuma Sector alone has apprehended 1,000 people at the border.
“We do not see an end to this. What we’ve been asking for is Congress to fix the loopholes that are in our system, but we have not seen any fix so far come down the line,” he said.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross contributed to this report.