US border chief on child deaths in CBP custody: 'Absolutely devastating for us'

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan explains how the agency is responding to the migrant influx on the U.S.-Mexico border.
10:30 | 01/02/19

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Transcript for US border chief on child deaths in CBP custody: 'Absolutely devastating for us'
We're nine days into the partial government shutdown and seemingly no closer to a resolution. Nancy Pelosi set to take over as house speaker Thursday said her party will, quote, act swiftly to end the trump shutdown when congress returns. She insists Democrats will include funding for border security, but not a wall. The president is not backing down. In a series of tweets trump made his demands clear, we build a wall or close the southern border. He's threatening to cut off aid to three Central American countries where many of the recent migrants are fleeing violence and poverty. That influx of new migrants is real and growing. This month nearly 25,000 children, a record, are expected to be apprehended at the southern border. This week the trump administration came under renewed scrutiny after a second migrant child died while in U.S. Custody. As president trump blames Democrats for the impasse over wall funding what's needed to address the humanitarian and security concerns at the border? To help us separate rhetoric from reality we're joined by customs and border protection commissioner Kevin mcaleenan. Welcome to "This week," commissioner. We're going to start with the sad news. You've had two young migrant children from Guatemala die while in custody in the past three weeks. 8-year-old at the Lee pay Gomez Alonzo died and jakelin Caal maquin. What have you learned? It's been over a decade since we had a child die in our processes. What I can tell you is -- I've looked at the investigative reporting. I looked at the father's statement. Our agents did everything they could as soon as the children manifested symptoms of illness to save their lives. Jakelin was 95 miles away from a station. She started to vomit on a bus ride to the station. Our agents got her there as quickly as we could. We had an agent waiting who is a paramedic to revive her and get her into emergency medical services and life flight her to El Paso. In the boy's place, he was taken to a hospital in new Mexico. What's being done to prevent this? The lead-in was absolutely appropriate. The humanitarian crisis we're facing, there are 60,000 people crossing the border each months. That's 30,000 families, 5,000 kids per M we'll have 22,000 children come through our system, a system who the for adults who are violators of the law. Now they're coming into the border patrol station as children. That's a huge crisis. What we've done immediately is we've directed we do medical checks of children 17 and under as they come into our process. That's not a capacity we have in the pass. We checked everyone in custody. We're working with I.C.E. To transfer them into a better situation as quickly as possible. We're trying to change the system so we have the capacity with doctors, physicians assistants, paramedics to do a intake check so we know if a child is healthy when they arrive at the border and they can get medical care if needed. Could more have been done to prepare for this? I know you have a surge. I know you say it's unprecedented with the number of children. But the flores settlement which says children have to be released after 20 day has been in place since 1997. Couldn't you have mobilized for this? We have. Within our current budget I've directed more spending on medical care for children. Why are we at a breaking point now? As kirstjen Nielsen says. It's because of the volume. You mentioned the flores settlement. It was 1997, but it was actually a 2015 upheld by the ninth circuit that started this dynamic with families being released without immigration proceedings or repatrioting them. That sent a signal. If you arrive with a child you'll be able to stay in the United States. We've seen continued growth month after month with people coming with children. Both children's parents said about why they came now and what they thought would happen when they arrived at the border. Secretary Nielsen said she laid blame on smugglers, those who want open borders and migrant parents who put their children at risk. By taking the journey. The president blamed the opposing party. Does the federal government bear any responsibility for these deaths? It's a multi-facetted problem. It requires a multi-facetted solution. You mentioned the legal framework. Backed on the flores settlement and the court decision families are going to be released. It's inviting families into the dangerous journey. We need a sober-minded procedure to deal with the fact that children and families are coming into the cycle. We need to invest in central America. An unprecedented increase in aid is a tremendous steps forward. There are chutes of progress. Both on security and the economic front in central America. We need to foster that and improve the opportunities to stay at home. We need to partner with Mexico. No question we need to work with the new administration and have a joint plan for dealing with migrants in the hands of transnational organizations. Let me go back to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. If there wasn't aid going into there, what would the result be, more problems? The need is for an accountable partner on the part of the Guatemalan and Salvador government. When we work with them like in the western highlands of Guatemala where there's a poverty an hunger crisis. Huge rates of starvation. It's one of the huge poverty stricken places in the world, we have great programs to foster that. We need the government to step in and join us. With the Mexican government coming in and expressing investment and development we have an opportunity to make a difference. I want to move to the wall, the border wall. The southern border is nearly 2,000 miles long. Establish how much new border wall has been built since trump took office. That's the fourth element of the strategy. We need investments on the border security side in addition to the humanitarian needs I spoke to. In fy 17, president trump's first budget we got about $300 million to start building new wall. We build 35 out of 40 miles already. It's a record time for a major government procurement. We're already on construction for the fy18 funded priority. I've been along that border and driven most of that border. There's areas where the wall is ineffective. People are climbing over that wall. How much of that border do you think the wall that exists or the fencing that exists is ineffective? Our wall system priorities are derived from our agents in the field. They offer the capabilities they need to control their sector, their area of responsibility. We've asked for about 1,000 miles of wall. These are areas where we have a dense metropolitan area on both sides of the border, where people can disappear quickly into a neighborhoodthe American side if we can't slow them down. What we're talking about is not just a dumb barrier. We're talking about the censors, lighting, a system to secure the area of the border. If you got -- if the administration got $5 billion for a wall, would you want part of that money to be spent for all these technologies? Absolutely. That's included in the ask of congress. It's about 215 miles of wall system. It has all those capabilities included in it. You've said you need this border security investment. There's a lot of congressmen I will fly over. That's how they're delivering drugs and other illegal substance. No one is asking for a single focus on border security. We've asked for surveillance technology. When you look at a wall, can't that just be overtaken by a drone or some other method of getting through? When you're talking about 60,000 people coming across the border and drug smuggling increasing, narcotics, opoids, methamphetamines, a 25% increase last year, we need a way to stop that. It's a multi-facetted approach. We need counter drone technology too. We appreciate congress giving the secretary the opportunity to explore that. We need to attack all of the different sections. You're having a crisis. You've said you're at a breaking point. You want money for a wall and other border security. That's not going to happen quickly. How do you deal with this? We need money for a better process, a different approach for children and families crossing. In December 65% of our crossings are family and children. We don't want them in border patrol stations. We want them in a better scenario for these vulnerable populations. That's an immediate thing we can do more quickly. The surveillance technology we can deploy fast. It's not just between the ports. Our ports of entry, these huge gate ways for our economy, $4 trillion, $2 billion a day on the southwest border. We need to be able to stop drugs coming in and we need technology to help us do that. Thank you, commissioner, for explaining all that to us. Thank you. Joining us now is congressman

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

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