WPPB

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Testifies Before House Oversight Committee

Jul 18, 2019
Originally published on July 18, 2019 5:52 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The political fight over the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border ratcheted up today. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified for several hours during a pretty emotional congressional hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I guess you feel like you're doing a great job, right? Is that what you're saying?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: We're doing our level best in a very...

CUMMINGS: What does that mean?

CHANG: That is part of an exchange between the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, and McAleenan. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been following all of these developments, and she joins us now. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: So there was clearly a lot of heated back-and-forth today. Can you just quickly recap what some of that was?

GRISALES: Well, McAleenan faced tough questions from Democrats. Republicans said he would be forthcoming and transparent about this crisis at the border, but that didn't necessarily calm down concerns among the Democrats. They were disturbed by reports of children being separated from their parents, infants whose diapers haven't been changed and left sitting in feces, adults being deported back to their home countries while their children remain detained back here in the United States and the troubles reuniting these families. Overall, the members wanted to make sense of much of the confusion that has clouded these concerns.

CHANG: And how did McAleenan defend the administration's policies?

GRISALES: Well, McAleenan appeared to do his level best to tell members what is happening at the border today and, in the midst of this crisis, what's being done to address it. The top Republican on the panel came to his defense and accused Democrats of playing politics and noted some of them didn't even vote for a recent border funding bill. Here's Jim Jordan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM JORDAN: And despite the size and scope of the crisis, some Democrats still choose not to support this bill, choosing instead to play politics with the border rather than work on the solutions that we all know need to happen.

GRISALES: McAleenan said the agency is facing an unprecedented situation, with more than 800,000 migrant crossings from Mexico since October 1 and more than 300,000 children having entered their custody since. He said the numbers were staggering and challenging and overwhelmed every aspect of the U.S. border and immigration enforcement system. But Democrats weren't happy with what they were hearing.

CHANG: I know that another issue Democrats asked about was the group of Border Patrol agents who wrote a bunch of offensive messages about immigrants...

GRISALES: Right.

CHANG: ...And lawmakers on a secret Facebook group site.

GRISALES: Right.

CHANG: How did you - how did the acting secretary address that today?

GRISALES: Well, McAleenan faced a barrage of questions about these posts. And there was a particularly tense exchange between him and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on this very concern.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Did you see the images of officers circulating Photoshopped images of my violent rape?

MCALEENAN: Yes, I did.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Are those officers on the job today and responsible for the safety of migrant women and children?

MCALEENAN: So there is an aggressive investigation on this issue proceeding. You've heard the chief of the Border Patrol, the most senior female official in law enforcement across the entire country, say that these posts do not meet our standards of conduct, and they will be followed up aggressively.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: But those officers...

MCALEENAN: We've already - individuals on administrative duties. I don't know which ones correspond with which post.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: OK.

MCALEENAN: And we've issued cease-and-desist orders to dozens and more.

GRISALES: McAleenan went on to say that CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility initiated an investigation within hours of these allegations coming to light, and a number of individuals have been placed under investigation and some on administrative duties. He said the agency has issued cease-and-desist letters, and they're moving quickly to hold people accountable for conduct that doesn't meet their standards.

CHANG: That's NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Thank you.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.