Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies before Congress

The ABC News Live team breaks down the secretary's testimony on border security and her defense of Trump's national emergency declaration.
23:11 | 03/06/19

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Transcript for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies before Congress
And you've been watching live coverage of the Homeland Security hearing with Homeland Security secretary. Pierced in Nielsen this is her first appearance. Before a democratic controlled committee and the house hi everyone I'm Devin Dwyer and ABC news in Washington you watching ABC news live. A fascinating contentious at times very emotional hearing. As the Homeland Security secretary was pressed on her scent that governments trump administration's war separation policy for families at the border. New numbers out just yesterday start showing a huge surge. In a number of families crossing the border apprehended at the border. Also taking some questions about the president's emergency declaration. Much debate in the hearing today over whether the situation there truly constitutes an emergency. And also answered some questions about the care of migrants particularly young migrants in US government custody. Secretary Nielsen. Confirming that three children have died in this year's so far. In her words because of conditions and medical conditions they had when they were taken into custody were joined. I now live by representative Lou Correa of California he's on the committee he asked. Us secretary Nielsen a number of questions today we've been having a conversation congressman. Thanks for sticking around. On you were held up a letter in that hearing you've been frustrated that the Homeland Security secretary has not responded. To your requests for information what are you looking for from perm. Now family separation injury in how we have. Refugees coming to America for decades and what's startling about this and administration is they decided. With a very cold hard. That's separate children from their parents and in my opinion when you start doing that you take on some massive responsibility. For that child's welfare. My letter was simply asking for facts. What's going on what's the treatment. What do we have it can we expect from you is that administration. And that letter was given to him back June July. And we've not gotten a response and I'm hoping today I rep EI again presented this letter to secretary Nielsen. Calling it some answers it's not. Gotcha it's not about who's right it was wrong. It's about making sure we're doing the right thing for children that's all it is and I'm hoping secretary Nielsen noted. I just wanna work with her wanna work for the betterment of these children Allen and make sure we think here these kids. That's all I want. It's a shortage though I want some facts I want to know what she's doing so we can all get. On the same page yet and she she was not able we should say to provided an accurate updated number although she did tissue get back to the committee on how many children remain. Separated from their parents how many were separated from their parents. Through the duration of the policy but congressman before I let you go I was struck by. Her announcement there at the end of the hearing where she said that this this practice is no longer taking place. That families coming across are not being separated the children parents in fact she said that. A parents are not being prosecuted. As they had been initially are you confident that this. What she says is true. Trust and verify though we say in California. I want to see what is really going on he threw out a lot of big years a lot of numbers but we have put him in the context of what is going on. And that's what we're gonna find out in Homeland Security want to dig in and see what is the real policy. Why didn't we go off on this can't get in the first place it's been terrible. Both Democrats and Republicans agree this is not the way to run a government so. All I want this cooperation from the secretary. And let's do the right thing she's doing her best I know she's trying to defend the president but clearly. As we're gonna vote in a few minutes we're gonna show that this emergency is a sham. And number two Republicans and Democrats will be with us on this statement from the president because you know what. We want to work with the president. And he's got power to declare an emergency on the real emergency this is not an emergency. And we want to send the message the president that he's president that he is not an emperor that he's not a. All right congressman Lou Correa of California Democrat on the homeland security committee in the house just questioned. Homeland Security secretary Christian Nelson thank you so much sir for your time I'm very generous of you coming out of that hearing today appreciate that very much. Hi Roy if you're just joining us again on Devin Dwyer ABC news in Washington we've been watching the first. Hearing of Homeland Security secretary Christian Nielsen before the house committee. That holds oversight over her her agency this is truly an extraordinary hearing a very passionate one. I was so many have minds on immigration in the news lately puts it a little bit of a listen to her comments off the top about. In an exchange about the the separation policy and her awareness of the impact that it was having on families stick let's. I would also just note that consistent with longstanding practice in the law. Before we deport any aliens after they have gone through the process and receive a final order removal we do ask them if it was like to take their children with them. At that same time their consulate or embassy for purposes edition in travel papers also asks them would you like to be removed with your children. Eyes as your revered as part of it is now the judge also process to go basket act ask the parents again in conjunction with the east in the U. Which we did so there is no parent. Who has been deported to my knowledge without multiple opportunities to take their children with them. Secretary Nelson there are pushing back on this idea of the trump administration ripping children from their parents insane as you just heard. That each parent is given the opportunity to take their children with them. Before their deep being deported that struck me as something we haven't heard before Josh tornadoes. ABC news reporter in New York has spent a lot of time down at the border Josh you've been talking into a lot of these families including parents or deported. Out of the United States without their children. Have you had that conversation were they given an opportunity to take their children with them men and what do you make of the secretary suggestion that it was the parents own decision. To leave their children behind when they were deported. That struck me also DeVon diverted down as it as she was same and I went back to listen to vote against it being tracked her to properly. From the conversations that we've had with parents. Who have gone through this process this whole team that. Is working on this larger project for ABC we haven't heard this. From parents. What they told us is that they've been approached it pieces of paper that are in English. Where they've signed away there deportation of one of the parents that we profiles. Was among the 29 who appeared at the point of entry along the US Mexican border this weekend he told us that after he signed a piece of paper. When the agents laughed at him and told him you know you just under deportation. And and the father kept asking that the agents when am I gonna see my child when am I gonna see them in this ancient. Seventeen to tell him when you will see yours child on the plane and when he got on the plane to go back home. His son wasn't there. So it does that no we are going back actually engine just for the record we're going back to that parent. To make sure of that date he was not asked that question tearing me is. Process at the port of entry when he first came into the United States last may but that the line. That to her knowledge. The parents have been given multiple opportunities to be reunited with their children before being being deported we have not heard back. In our conversations the parent. It's the and you push back from the Homeland Security secretary also joined now by ABC news contributor and former DHS official Jon Cohen joins us now by the phone John. I want to get your reaction to that comment by the secretary that each parent before they're deported is given the chance. To be reunited with their children and she was suggesting again that many of these children who are left behind. I here in the United States were done so by choice of the parents how did that ring to you. Well. I think it's time out how whether if there's an accurate statement or whether that carries there was once again. By being. Factually flawed information support that this year but I can't let slamming Icelandic a step backward that I. And I followed the hearing today. And a former BHF profession I am disappointed by much of what the but it's very sad but of course I am not rise. And you really is and to some degree in a no win situation. Because if you work in democratic congress and actually vote by its. A an accurate. Representation. Of security conditions. Asked abort. The case would be made as we've discussed in the past are multiple occasions. But quite there would be real question about what the national emergency exit and recently declared. Is a is an actual national security emergency. And whether those authorities should appropriately be in this case so she'd perhaps. Provide messaging that is consistent with what C political elements of the White House have been put in court to support. The president order wore off. Or are she runs afoul. But as the administration priority is built in the Puerto lines show it but as that it just watching the apartment and Colin performance it's a very disciplined. And John as we as we talk about her declaration noted that this is this does constitute a crisis it desk constitute an emergency. Echoing president trump. She seemed to present it to separate fact cases that word not necessarily in agreement with one another on the one hand. She did say that had been numbers of migrants approaching the border crossing the border were up significantly we know that that that the data and the historical data sort of supports that in terms of families. And at the same time she seemed to suggest that there was this huge danger at the border which doesn't. You do one would imagine then and families with young children from impoverished countries. Would proof room were present itself as a very significant national security threat. Perhaps writing several points on the up front. There are security challenge that the border. Very we're out there that need or border security along the border. The national emergency was declared in order to which require funding for a border while the border while on the outer wrap. Immigration me. Law enforcement and other security challenges. The border speculate as early into the search. Migrants presenting them. GDP he got Napoli. I just yesterday I. Stated publicly that. Overwhelmingly. This surge is based on families who are crossing the border presenting themselves to Border Patrol officers in an effort to seek a violent. Clearly these are not dangerous people clearly these are not ordered criminals or terrorists seeking to come across the border. These are families that are swinging. Dangerous. And economically depressed environment are seeking a better life. The administration on policy has made. He vehicle pursuit of asylum or difficult it's created bottlenecks at the ports of entry. There should be no surprise anybody. About conditions in the countries of origin to carrier. And ask. The administration's own operational profits at the other border created bottled that we would see an increase of people. Crossing the border between the ports of entry and turning themselves in the Border Patrol officer. We got it overseeing and it was totally predictable. Hemmer talking to Jon Cohen ABC news contributor former Homeland Security. Official at the Department of Homeland Security John stand by. It's is picking up where you left off there one of the most contentious moments of the hearing today. Came from our congresswoman and then at Barrick and of California who is. Very impassioned when pressing Homeland Security secretary about a case she witnessed yourself in a border port of entry of the Honduran man. Seeking Asylum there he was turned away here's a little bit of that exchange. Matter of fact it pulled out my phone started to report. And you know what I was asked to stop according. Like is that you don't want the American people milling what is happening at that southern border and that of secretary I don't know if you don't what's happening. But this is happening without you know means but it's totally unacceptable. As a member of this committee you're darn right I'm gonna hold this you'll accountable for knowing what's happening at the bottom do you know. You know that two members of congress have to sleep overnight has been fourteen hours in the cold on the concrete at OK mesa port of entry. So that Maria the woman who was tear gas at the port of entry would be allowed to present herself because she was on US soil and legally that's what asylum allows did you know that. Heart quite hot moment quite knowing our immigration reporters here with us you room watching some of this Quinn you've also been down. At the border tracking the developments there. I was struck by that example because so many people have been coming for so many of these migrants the caravans that we've been hearing about our asylum seekers. Many of them are going to legal ports of entry waiting in long lines we've seen the picture to request a sound. In the trump administration is really sort of push the boundaries of the law in trying to kind of push them away. And that represented very gun from California some of highlighted one case study there. It is technically though they're supposed to bring the name and not that there can speak. Earth right exactly as DeVon as you as you know as it as you mentioned it when you ought stepped foot on US soil you have the right to make an asylum application right. Now the drug administration has this policy that they're implementing in San Diego to start the plan rolling it out across the southern border. For people who come and presenting and present their clients to then go back into Mexico and wait for their claims to be adjudicated. I can take months and sometimes years in some cases. The rollout of this plan. Is a bit controversial because the Mexican government hasn't exactly agreed. Did take people from all these different places along the southern border right now it's happening in San Diego. And and a separate hearing actually today on the hill Kevin Mac lean in the CBP commissioner. Said they are expanding it in San Diego County. It's a summary these families and let's just remind everybody about the situation and the border you took a look at the numbers yesterday the trump administration. Released. Border apprehensions on the southwest border for February these are new numbers just coming in the past point four hours take a look at them. Quinn to help us understand where this fits in context. The administration announced that 66000. People were arrested. At the southern border last month alone 36000. Of them more Fam les. Omnia that's off a record high. They invented though there's our record numbers the overall number of people attempting to cross is not entirely unprecedented during the Bush Administration we did see high numbers the difference here is that the type of people that are coming across CBP says we're seeing. A lot more families and children coming across of course families and children pose. Entirely new challenges in for CBP to deal with. When you talk about medical services CBP has had to ramp those up after they've had some incidents with. Two children in recent months dying in in custody but I think in being improve their their medical services that they make available to people they have detained. And of course the detention problem they can't keep kids. Detained for longer than twenty days so. Web becomes an issue and as Nielsen pointed out today in her testimony it's a problem for them because then they have to release people back in the United States. And the administration says that is why it is drawing people to up to the border. That's the case that coyotes and human smugglers are making to their victims to bring them up to the border. Because they say if they have a kid with them they'll eventually be really. And we know that this secretary repeated today that that should the challenges of the homeland security agency which is a law enforcement agency. Really tasked with some humanitarian. Care needs with all these families and children they are not set up for that she is asking congress for resources for that. On and there was one heated exchange they came with the chairman of the committee Bennie Thompson of Mississippi. Over that abuse of what he was calling cages. And there was some dispute over whether fenced in holding pens or cages Whitaker accounts a cage. It was a pretty heated moment want to share with you here's a little look at that description. Well record Maryland circuit here we steel used in cases put -- Answer we don't use cages for children in the border facilities that you didn't you. They were not need to actually detained children asked the children are processed through they are in sad parts those facilities that. Madam brown. I don't I don't hear yes I ask is cleared think answer respectfully and is yes than no we spew putting children in cases. To my knowledge CBP never purposely put a child in the KG. Purposely are putting up. Are we putting children. In cages as of today. Children are processed at the border facility stations that you've been hats. Some of announcing an achilles' I just want you to admit that the cages and slips. Say they're not cages went areas at the border facilities at her car out for the safety and protection. Up those to remain there while they're being processed. If we have two games we separate them in to separate Aaron announced early. Manning amount hotter in town secretary fat from another sign which would not local to the semantic. Net I sold the cyclone. France's. That would make any errors Kenny Smith. You can't do it all you have to do both admit it if it's a bad policies and changes but don't mislead the community. Do not misleading to committed. Let's let's go back to Jon Cohen on this question of cages. And they care facilities detention facilities John. You've studied this stuff you've been part of the planning for the stepped is some of the criticism of her fair. She seemed to make the case that the administration has been hit with. If not an unprecedented number an unprecedented situation with so many families and children coming. More than ever before that the facilities that congress is built and funded in the past simply. Don't meet this challenge. Yeah I mean yeah. It's EDT April on course and border security organization their primary responsibility. Carried outlaw enforcement importer security. Act related activity. By. As you point out there have been periods of time where we means significant increases. In migrants seeking to cross the southern border. But seems to be missing here. A complex and that administrative. Administration why planned to deal with the issue is typically the way government worked at something like this. Began. The interagency. Representatives from major organizations like Department of Justice health and human services Department of Homeland Security health and human service about come to gather. You have a common understanding of the problem and develop a plan to address a pop. It just doesn't look like that's what happened in this case we've had enough time to deploy the military to a draft. I'm perceived security issues. But what we're not seeing are adequately sources being deployed to handle the processing. These individuals. He batting of these individuals he transportation and housing of these individual. And the medical care and impart patent is too as was pointed out by queen and earlier that this administration has decided that they do not want to avail themselves of some of B. Techniques and approaches that were used in past administrations. In handling. Those periods a time when there is a surge in some respects it like that earlier. The the situation to southern border is being exacerbated. By the fact that the administration has taken approach to dealing with those. We're going through the legal profit for the violence in such a way that it has. Made conditions more challenging. All right Jon Cohen thanks so much for joining us by phone a former ths official and ABC news contributor Crennel and his. John Paul was talking about there the administration has taken so much heat for being reactive to some of these problems and there was a lot of empathy for the Homeland Security secretary with the challenges they're facing but not a lot. For the fact that they have been proactive about getting ahead in this although she did announce today that they will begin medically screening every single child that comes across. I yes move more medical screenings are definitely coming and they've done some of that in the past as well. You know as to the administration's posture on on this and how they've they've reacted. If there are some who say that you possibly the Stanley separation policy and pulling that back after they ruled that out. Could have caused more people to think they could eventually come up in and make a claim now that they're no longer doing that I think the single overall salience of the issue. It has has definitely made people more aware. As deftly made migrants more aware of how these processes work. I talked to lawyers who have said that people some people have a surprisingly astute. Grasp on immigration law. As there could when they arrive at the border. And of course the bottleneck problem continues to be a challenge it would be a challenge for any and administration just the sheer volume of people. Coming over the problem becomes how can you. What do you deal with people how do you deal with people once there in custody a U grapple with the challenges of having kids in custody and and the time frames for having to release them. And we know that we are on track is that the secretary said there for possibly seen up to a million. Undocumented migrants apprehended at the southern border this your loan that would be a significant uptick although. I'd down from that record high in 2000 so everything in context here but certainly an issue an issue that we will keep an ion. We know what our immigration reporter thanks so much for thanks also to Joshua hallway outside of New York who is a part of the borderline project cured abcnews.com. If you haven't check it out. I take a look some great reporting their video elements from mark many weeks down at the southern border. I'm Devin Dwyer Washington thanks so much for joining us here our special coverage of the house Homeland Security. Committee hearing today with Homeland Security secretary Kirsch and Yeltsin will be back at 3:30 eastern time with the briefing room until then. I'm Devin Dwyer with suit next time.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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