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Today, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will testify before the House Appropriations Committee on behalf of the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal for DHS. Ahead of Sec. Nielsen’s hearing, and amidst the Trump Administration’s ongoing fear-mongering about immigrants and the state of border security, here are five key questions that she should be prepared to answer and explain:
How do you defend the push for additional CBP hiring, big increases to CBP’s budget, and the National Guard deployment to the border at a time when unauthorized border crossings are at an historic, 46-year low? Unauthorized border crossings are at the lowest level in 46 years (see here for a good breakdown). A bipartisan commitment to border security over the past four administrations has led to a huge investment of technology, infrastructure, and border patrol agents. Nonetheless, the Trump Administration is hyping a false narrative — that the border is out of control border — as part of their larger political strategy to justify sweeping anti-immigrant measures and policies.
Why should the country fund the hiring of additional border agents, or support the National Guard deployment, when current CBP agents only apprehend an unauthorized border crosser an average of once out of every 17 days? That’s right, the combination of historically low border crossings and ramped-up CBP hiring over the past decade-plus means that current CBP agents make arrests of border crossings an average of less than two times per month. As Dara Lind assessed in Vox about the National Guard deployment, “we still don’t know what exactly they’re doing, or why they’re needed at a time when border crossings are still way lower than they were for decades … it’s also entirely possible that the National Guard will spend the bulk of its time under Trump in 2018 the same way it spent most of its time under Obama in 2010: standing around.”
How do you respond to the criticism of Admiral James Stavridis about the wasteful deployment of the National Guard to the border? Adm. Stavridis toldNPR, “There really isn’t a significant role for the military to play in that border … before I was the NATO commander, I spent three years as commander of U.S. Southern Command, in charge of everything military south of the United States. And, frankly, the choice of active duty military National Guard on that border is an opportunity cost in the sense that we can no longer train and prepare for the actual mission of those troops, which is combat.”
How do you plan to provide accountability and oversight to CBP – an agency with a reputation for corruption and incompetence — in light of recent revelations of a murder charge against an agent and the “dumping” of an injured man on the Mexican side of the border? Along with ICE, CBP has a deserved reputation as one of the least professional, most undisciplined, and systemically corrupt law enforcement agencies in the nation. For a primer, see this Politico exposé on CBP from 2014, calling the Border Patrol “America’s most out-of-control enforcement agency.” Problems clearly remain, as two incidents in the news this week make clear. In Texas, a CBP agent has been arrested and charged with the murder of a woman and small child found near the Rio Grande. And NBC News has the disturbing video of border patrol agents trying to dump an injured man on the Mexican side of the border, because he “looks” Mexican.
How does separating American families through the deportations of long-settled immigrants make America stronger or safer, in accordance with DHS’s mission? The Trump administration has presided over a dramatic increase in interior immigration enforcement, much of it directed at long-settled immigrants who are living and contributing to America. For example, arrests of non-criminal immigrants surged 171% last year (many detained through “silent raids” against individuals who were complying with the law and checking in regularly with the government). This does not make America safer or stronger and is a direct consequence of the Trump administration’s choice to eliminate enforcement priorities and purposefully sow fear in immigrant communities.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
Under Secretary Nielsen, DHS is waging a war against immigrants and asylum-seekers. There are no restraints, there is no accountability, and there is coherent use of resources. DHS’s deportation agents have been unshackled and Nielsen is the chief enabler of an approach that will go down in history as un-American and unacceptable. We don’t expect Republicans to exercise meaningful oversight, but we do expect the next Congress to hold them to account.