Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border Wednesday, telling lawmakers in a contentious hearing that officials are on track to detain more than 900,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border this year. Nielsen pushed back against widespread reports that the Trump administration routinely denies migrants a chance to apply for asylum in the U.S., claiming no one would be turned away at a U.S. port of entry. The claim prompted Democrat Nanette Barragán of the House Homeland Security Committee to reply, “Either you’re lying to this committee, or you don’t know what’s happening at the border.” Asked how many children are detained at the border, Nielsen replied she didn’t have the number handy. And she denied that migrant detainees are being held in cages. This is New Jersey Congressmember Bonnie Watson Coleman questioning Nielsen.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman: “What does a chain-link fence enclosed into a chamber on a concrete floor represent to you? Is that a cage?”
Kirstjen Nielsen: “It’s a detention space, ma’am, that you know has existed for decades.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman: “Does it differ from the cages you put your dogs in when you let them stay outside? Is it—is it different?”
Kirstjen Nielsen: “Yes.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman: “In what sense?”
Kirstjen Nielsen: “It’s larger. It has facilities. It provides room to sit, to stand, to lay down.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman: “So did my dog’s cage.”
Nielsen’s testimony came as U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported its agents arrested over 66,000 people crossing the southern border between legal ports of entry in February, the highest number for a single month in nearly 10 years.