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Senator Lankford Questions Acting DHS Secretary on Crisis at the Southern Border

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Q&A.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today questioned Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan on the agency’s plan to address the rapidly growing humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border. Lankford specifically talked about the “recycling” of children by human traffickers to assist individuals seeking to enter the country. Lankford has advocated for Congressional action to address loopholes in the US immigration system that encourages human trafficking of children created in part by the Flores settlement.

Excerpts:

On trafficking and smuggling of children:

Starts at 0:08 – Lankford: On this issue about a hearing of children being recycled across the border, coming across with multiple different adults at different time periods. Is that true? Is that happening? Can you give me any details on that?

McAleenan: Thank you, Senator. It is true, it is happening. We’ve had multiple cases. One out of Chicago, one out of Charleston on that issue and just on Monday we announced a dedicated effort with Homeland Security investigators deploying to both El Paso and Rio Grande Valley where most of our families are crossing—Really focused on this issue. We have forensic interviewers, we’re bringing rapid DNA capability in a pilot format to try to make sure we are identifying those that do not have a parent or guardian relationship and that we’re able to see if a child has been crossed twice with a different adult. That is the worst concern that we have, trafficking or child smuggling being involved in this process. We’re also trying to identify those families that are presenting as a parent or guardian that are not actually parent or guardian and the fraud issue that’s intrinsic there.

On religious freedom waiver to build a wall:

Starts at 2:14 – Lankford: I just don’t see a need to try to do for new construction, a waiver the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, why that would even need to be done to be able to take that on. I’m trying to get additional clarification.

On diversions by cartels at the border:

Starts at 2:26 – Lankford: There’s also been some dialog to say, ‘When there’s a large group that comes through the border, let’s say a 100, obviously agents have to be able to move to that,’ there’s been some dialogue to say, ‘There is a belief or maybe an understanding or maybe factual evidence.’ I’d like to get clarity on this, that when a large group comes through, it demands a response from DHS authorities there that cartels are then using that moment five, 10 miles away knowing that there’s no one in that region because they’ve all had to respond to a large group of families coming through to be able to then try to be able to move either people, contraband, whatever it may be across the border. Are you seeing that? 

McAleenan: We’re absolutely seeing that. Numbers of documented instances, we call it ‘diversion.’ The tactic that’s employed and just on the large group phenomenon, we had a group of 424 earlier this week, the largest we’ve ever seen. But what they do, the cartels control that whole access to the border. They will allow a large group to go through knowing our agents in that area will have to respond especially if there’s a humanitarian issue with small children. We had a news crew down two weeks ago, they saw a pregnant woman being aided by agents on the radio, people calling out, ‘We got runners, we got runners.’ The agents couldn’t leave because she was complaining she was thirsty and needed help. So we had a news crew actually witness diversion in process. It is a tactic the cartels use. It’s a difficult one for us. It’s why we’re asking for support on both the border security and the humanitarian side.

On people seeking asylum at the border:

Starts at 3:48 – Lankford: Have you seen change in percentages or in technique of people asking for asylum or claiming credible fear? Has that changed in the past several months?

McAleenan: It’s changed in the past seven years. I mean before 2013, fewer than one percent of people apprehended by CBP made an asylum claim or claimed fear of return to their home country. That got as high as 30 percent last year, it’s actually coming down because families believe they’ll be released regardless of the claim they make because we’re not able to hold them through their immigration procedures.

Lankford: Families are coming across the border, being processed at that point, and then being released, they’re not even asking for asylum?

McAleenan: In some cases, that’s correct. Many still are asking for something.

Lankford: So when you say the 30 percent number, what I’m trying to figure out, is that 30 percent are asking for asylum even? Are you saying that 70 percent are not? Or give me a guess here.

McAleenan: That’s correct. Yeah. And again that’s for the CBP data which I’m most familiar with you know, three weeks working on the rest of the department. So an asylum claim can be made not just necessarily at the front end when they’re apprehended at the border to CBP, and that numbers gone from less than one percent to 30 percent last year, but also to ICE later in the process and detention, or to CIS, or an affirmative basis to an immigration judge. So what we need to look at is the entire volume of people requesting asylum. How many are actually claiming fear at the front end and then filing for asylum, which they have a year to do? That number is a big gap as well, so I think to understand how this vulnerability and the system is being exploited you have to look at that whole system.

Lankford: And as the past couple of months, how many countries are crossing our border that’s you’re apprehending?

McAleenan: We, every year, we have upwards of 125 countries.

Lankford: Has that increased lately? Or has that stayed fairly static?

McAleenan: It’s increased over the past decade for sure we do have a phenomenon of people coming from the eastern hemisphere all the way landing in South America and making the land journey up to our border again claiming fear of return to their home country.

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