WASHINGTON — A permanent solution to stop the unprecedented flow of migrants illegally entering the U.S. through its southern border lies with Congress changing the nation’s immigration laws, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Thursday.
“A durable solution to this crisis lies with Congress — with targeted changes to our immigration laws that we need to enhance the integrity of our immigration system and eliminate the gaps in our legal framework that incentivize families and children to take this dangerous journey,” McAleenan said at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing.
McAleenan said the number of migrants whom border patrol agents have either “apprehended or encountered” at the U.S.-Mexico border since Oct. 1, 2018, exceeds 800,000. He said more than 90% of the migrants “crossed illegally between ports of entry.”
More than 450,000 of the migrants were members of “family units” and over 80,000 were unaccompanied minors, he added.
“These numbers are staggering, unprecedented, and have challenged and overwhelmed every aspect of our border and immigration enforcement system,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a recent report that some of the migrants being held at detention centers on the border may have been mistreated.
The DHS report followed media reports that said the centers are overcrowded, lack basic sanitary conditions and fail to provide adequate medical care.
Some members of Congress have since visited the facilities and have made statements that attest to the poor treatment of migrants.
On July 1, President Donald Trump signed into law a $4.6 billion emergency border aid bill to address humanitarian concerns at the detention centers. However, reports of mistreatment and neglect still persist.
The committee is investigating the administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents or other adult relatives at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump signed an executive order last year that prohibits family separation. However, the order did not address families who had already been separated. Many families have yet to be reunited despite court orders.
McAleenan said that currently a family separation is “rare” and that when it does occur, DHS strongly considers the impact it will have on both children and parents.