DHS calls for more detention beds and stricter punishment to deter border crossers

Construction continues on a new section of barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border on Jan. 8, 2019, as seen from Tijuana, Mexico. President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency because Congress did not approve of $5.7 billion in funding to build a border wall. Photo by Mario Tama | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials followed the Trump administration’s lead on Wednesday, urging Congress to increase immigrant detention bed capacity and implement more “punitive consequences” for immigrants crossing the border.

Before a packed Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border, Chief of Border Patrol Carla Provost said the surge in asylum seekers arriving in need of immediate humanitarian assistance diverted border patrol agents’ attention from upholding security. Prioritizing humanitarian aid also encouraged migrants to seek asylum, she said.

“Every time I go off the line to process and provide care for families and children increases the risk that illegal border-crossers will get past,” Provost said. “We must be able to maintain our ability to administer consequences or we will lose control of the border.” Customs and Border Protection said it apprehended 361,087 people between ports of entry on the border this fiscal. year, the majority of whom were families.

While Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, endorsed Provost’s call for tougher border protection, several Democratic senators expressed alarm over the separation and detention of families at the border, criticizing DHS for its call to prolong detention and punish immigrants in the name of deterrence.  

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called the current practices at the border “cruel and ineffective.” He slammed Nathalie Asher, director of enforcement and removal operations, for her assertion that the vast majority of asylum seekers fail to show up for court hearings or pose a risk to security by committing crimes if not placed in custody.

“I have to stop this right now,” Durbin said. “In fiscal year 2018, the Department of Justice figures show 89 percent of all asylum applicants attended their final court hearing to reach a decision on their application.”

Immigration advocates and congressional leaders in Arizona have also decried President Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policies from detaining certain asylum seekers indefinitely without bond hearings to tacking on asylum application fees as violations of human rights.

The humanitarian crisis at the Arizona border has put local nonprofits, churches and immigration advocates to the test, said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. He said “hiring more asylum officers, providing funding to humanitarian organizations, and strengthening alternatives to detention are the ways to solve this situation — not through more enforcement and more hate-filled policies.”

On May 6, Grijalva joined other Arizona congressional leaders in sending a letter to acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, urging the department to address the crisis by appointing a “federal crisis coordinator” to increase communication between stakeholders and local officials.

“This is a larger humanitarian problem and we need responsible and humane leadership to come from the federal level,” Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz. said in a statement to the Arizona Mirror. “We need DHS to appoint coordinators to help organize a humanitarian response to families coming from our southern Arizona border.”


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