House panel grills DHS secretary on family separation, border security

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended President Trump's declaration of a national emergency as she faced questioning for the first time since Democrats took control of the House.
29:02 | 03/06/19

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Transcript for House panel grills DHS secretary on family separation, border security
And. Everybody welcome to the briefing her mind Devin Dwyer ABC news in Washington great to have you with us on this Wednesday a lot going on in Washington and joined by Quinn on our immigration reporter. I'm great to have you quit and we were just watching an extraordinary hearing today several hours of testimony by the Homeland Security secretary Christian Nielsen. Her first appearance before democratic controlled committee in the House of Representatives. And there were so many questions Quinn not only about the treatment of migrants in custody the president's emergency declaration. Children in detention centers but these numbers which the administration just release in the past 24 hours. Showing a remarkable surge of migrants apprehended at the southern border in the month of February. And a record number of families Quinn 66000. Individuals for 36000. Family units and that's a record. That's right the number of family units is really the thing to note here because overall the increase in migrants coming to the board the general number is an entirely unprecedented there were similar flows similar high flows even some higher totals during the Bush Administration but the challenge that is presented. In the re in recent months is the increase of family units because of course when you have kids. That's and up in CB be cut CPB custody Customs and Border Protection. They run into issues with. The length of time that they have to detain them there's a limit on how long you can keep a kid in US custody. And there's also a whole variety of medical issues that come up in and having to deal was yeah. I'm very delicate situation in the Homeland Security secretary today. Was defending the agency's treatment of these families in these children saying their law enforcement agency they weren't set up. To handle family units detained Stanley units she also was pushing back on criticism about policy of separating parents. From their children which has since ended it with certainly controversial few months back we'll get into that. I today here on the show who want to start with member of the committee is joining us now Republican of Arizona WS go sits on the house homeland security committee congressman it's great to see you. Let's start I'm not asking you about the president's emergency declaration in his efforts to secure eight billion dollars in funding from the wall you heard. The secretary talk a little about that today. Mom as the president embarks on this effort are you are you confident that that amount of money is sufficient. Enact what how much of Wallace going to be new wall will be built in Arizona. Yes I support the president's. Because we do have a crisis that our southern border Agassi just that I'm from the stadium bears are now border state. I bend down to the border. Aaron I've talked to they boots on the ground the customs and Border Patrol agents and their supervisors they officials. And I asked them straight down. Do we need it stands as part of the solution to this crisis they said yes. And then if you heard me and committee today I asked secretary Nielsen and if she believes that there is a crisis and emergency and our southern border. Did she say yes and that she supports the president's declaration I believe he was forced to do it. Now as far as the amount of money I think this is going to be a good start. I've been told by Department of Homeland Security they have given us a list of the prioritized areas where they want to build the wall personal one of those areas is that you might Arizona. And so there's quite a bit in Texas but I think Yuma Arizona we'll get some of the fence built there as well. Any idea how soon though break ground in that sector. I do not know how thin and that will break ground now now first of course. The the president has statue it wary statutory authority to transfer some of the money is with out. The declaration of emergency. Baton I hope that he can get all of the money I think part of this is going to be tied up in the courts and ultimately probably go to the United States Supreme Court. For that decision but it now again. I've been down to the border I'm from a border state. There is a crisis center border and as you have sat in this newscast. Is that. Our immigration laws also have to be changed because what's happening is our loose asylum laws. Are actually incentivizing. Thousands of people to come to the United States. Because they know that once they cross the border asked for asylum in if they bring children whipped them. That they can only be held in custody for twenty days and that's part of the system they know our lives the cartels are giving them steps. I'm how to take advantage of our lives. And it's really bad because one out of every three women. Better that migrants that are coming these thousands of miles is being sexually assaulted. Today you've heard from secretary Nielsen. That they have to task girls as young as ten years old with pregnancy test because they're afraid that they've been sexually assaulted. By these coyotes. That are ego doing human trafficking getting paid about 6000. Dollars her purse and to cart these people thousands of miles it's it's it's a real. It makes sure it right truly stunning to hear her say that also. Her talking about the need this is gonna have to test medically. Test all these children because so many are crossing would medical conditions and injuries and the like. What what you to draw down a lot of it on on the administration's. Strategy to try to get their arms around this one approach they took as you were as you know well. Up from year ago was what the administration called zero tolerance policy of these families came across the in many cases separating children from their parents because as used noted children can't be put. In. In jails and prisons. Under federal law so they have to be held in separate places in that caused this crisis. Democrats have been so critical of that policy when I start by playing just a little bit of one exchange with. The secretary today over this issue and ask your response. Were you aware that the zero tolerance policy would be to minors being separated from their parents yes are now. As the increase consequences for those who break the law justice asks aren't looking and I have such limited time on secretary I'm sure you can appreciate that as a as an honest answer is apparently going to jail we in this country do not take the children to jail. So I take that is a yes that you understood. The. So the answer is yes. To. Lot of passion there congressman Denny Wesco of Arizona Ari are you satisfied that based on what you heard and seen. But how the administration has handled these children. Well you have that was in the past as he had a zero tolerance policy that president changed that after he got bipartisan push back. When children were separated from their parents. Said now I believe there's only six children and haven't been read you die he did with the periods or some type of guardian and that's because they literally can't find and there are certain legal. Situations. This that. Situation was from a while ago last year it's been rectified I have times news some of these homes. That take care of unaccompanied children and I have to say that that once and it went to there was one in Virginia. And it's very well run. Very nice facility they educate their children very nice accommodations. And their waiting there until they kitten. They placed in a sponsor column it's usually with relatives. Again but Department of Homeland Security as secretary Nielsen says cast to check out the background. Of these sponsors to make sure that the home is safe for these children. Again this is really a crisis in the eye and congress really needs to work and a bipartisan. Fashion. To change the laws because you can build fences which I approve that I think dances part of the answer he could have more Border Patrol agents. But you also need to change or immigration lives. And congressman it indeed is an initiative needs a lot of bipartisan attention you can only here on that. And then add on that front no doubt you and I appreciate your time will be cut circling back with you. On that front before we let you go that you need to ask you about some breaking news just a few minutes ago on the senate. Armed services committee your colleague. Senator Martha makes Sally Republican of Arizona someone you know very well armed military veteran. I was just testifying. About a sexual assault in the united states military you are. I chairwoman Republican Schuermann the congressional caucus on women's issues also learned the air force caucus are no Martha makes Sally well she said that. She was actually raped. Back during her time of service via secure your in the military want to get your reaction to it to her very public and personal. Testimony and in how your tracking that issue right now. Well I hope I'm financier in and a little while so I can give her a hot game teller helpful sorry I am because besides it being us can affect you the rest of your life. I am a survivor of domestic violence and so I had other issues spent. I wrote you know this is a huge issue net only in the military but across all sectors. We need to. Address issues. Women being sexually abuse and domestic violence and that's one of the issues. I do want to work on in a bipartisan fashion. I'm her woman's pockets and so I I can't wait to see here and get our hot and teller that I feel for I don't know exactly what she's going through but you know it's unfortunately this happens to sell many women. I throughout America. All right Tony Glasgow Republican congressman from Arizona also on the house homeland security committee thank you so much for joining us in a really appreciate your time. I'm perspective congressmen think you. I just I think we spoke with Denny let's go we also spoke with a Democrat on the committee Quinn. Our congressman who Cory asked California who offered his take on the secretary's testimony today let's take weeks. Congressman thanks so much for joining us do what surprised you most by the secretary's testimony today her first appearance before your democratic majority in the committee. That's good to I think she had some good statements today he. Try to make a good argument for the president's emergency declaration. Sadly. He couldn't make that point. And as you know right now congress is getting ready to vote to rebuke the president on his emergency declaration. And both Democrats and Republicans are probably going to vote against the president. That assertion face a lot of questions about the separation policy. Sheep faced questions about the care of these migrants. She faced questions about asylum seekers was there anything. New that you heard in her testimony in response to questions about how those things are mean implemented. What she knows she try to talk about the emergency at the border numbers that I what was interesting to me as she began to UConn. Tell us little bit about the real crisis in America is not in the United States but in the Americas as you know right now there's probably. Two million refugees. Did as well into Colombian and a whole lot many people in Central America refugees from there as well. The issue isn't a border challenge a border emergency the issue is. Then the Americans today we have a refugee crisis. Now don't think the president has talked about. This solution to this crisis in the Americas is to work where the neighbors work with Mexico work with Canada Central America. To give people hope of staying at home secure household. A future in terms of economically being secure. That's what we need to work on that the secretary started talking a little bit about that. She started talking about folks having to flee their nation's. But she didn't quite get there because you know her job. Is to back the president and unfortunately. The facts do not back up the president. Our thanks to congressman Lou Correa of California for more on and on the ground perspective right now want to go to our affiliate reporter. I'm worse Armas she's down in in Albuquerque, New Mexico has been covering border issues for KOAT and ABC affiliate there Marisa great to see you. What is she what impact. This surge of families and children we've been talking about these record numbers what impact that's having and your community and how folks there are responding. What we. It's having on our communities really just depends what part of the state you're going to Sonia Mexico's an interesting area because if your going to Republican strongholds such as a Terrell county or is he got Eagle County people say that it is a problem but if you're going to areas like son but that is powerless cruises. They say that it's not in fact that this that you have to remember that they do have a barrier in place and they're actually churches there on the ground that are trying to help migrants get back on their feet but isn't also an area that hasn't resource as. But when you look at another part of the state like I mentioned in Campbell county this is an area where they eat their their the aren't there aren't enough resources. Ranchers say that they fear for their safety they say that the person at their singing their back and art are drug traffickers they're saying that their medical facilities are being over ran. By immigrants so what we're seeing there is entirely different now just a couple months ago that he got little county manager actually sent a letter to state lawmakers. Dating for help in that area because she says. This is situation there is getting very bad she says that one there aren't enough people on the ground she says that medical facilities are over run and he says that even the roads from all of the orbital going back and forth from more different animal twelve. Is taking its hold on their county. Now eventually after several weeks of the governor did back in and responded to that letter she did send eventually six state police officers. Out to that area to monitor the area but she says that she wants to see data act now the hard thing about the data as that renters say. When you only have fort county sheriff's monitoring this area it's really hard for for these limited officers to get out there. When they might seize someone on their Landers he stuffing their barn area so again the county managers big concern is that this situation is going to get a lot worsened when it does she says that she's not sure there didn't have the resource is to handle it. And very remote areas difficult areas to police as we've been hearing hospitals not nearby many of those border outposts in a lot of the ranchers even talking to. Marisa confident complain of begging for resources from Washington Marisa RS thanks for that reporting perspective. From our Albuquerque, New Mexico affiliate KOAT appreciate your time in Quinn. You bet spend some time outside the remote areas at actual ports of entry and they are facing an influx is well. Yes at these ports ventures where more families and and children are are coming up some of them just aren't designed to handle it handle vent this level of flow. In some cases they're to convert different parts of the facilities like bathrooms and a holding senators they have. Supply cabinet stock was. Diapers. Blankets all sorts of things that kids need to to get behind them the bottleneck ends up being win those kids have to then you know. Eventually get out of custody because you do have this twenty day limit very difficult situation. Thanks for your reporting you know you'll see on a Quinn on BBC news and our thanks to our whole team covering this issue a lot more abcnews.com. And on the ABC news app moving on now to some other major news just breaking just before we came to air on North Korea in the past 24 hours. A nonprofit group here Washington that obtain some commercial satellite imagery. Found out that North Korea has act seems rapidly begun rebuilding a missile launch site. Just in the past few days to this just after president Robert Tur from his summit with Kim Jung on in Vietnam. For more on this now want to bring in our State Department report Connor Finnegan has been tracking the latest images Connor. I give us a summary of what were seen how significant doses. It's actually really significant DeVon this is a key missile engine test site. For the North Korean regime as he said newly released a commercial satellite images. Showing that it's being rebuilt essentially. North Korea had begun to dismantle it last year on you as part of of a promised to. To the South Koreans and to president trump. But in recent days where are quite sure when it began but they begin a rapid rebuilding of the facility. Our Connor thanks for that wanna go now over to the White House to our Karen Travers White House. Correspondent who asked the president about these images is coming care what he had to say about this. Then of course there's no major breakthrough last week in Hanoi after the president's summit with Kim Jong-un but he said last week that Kim promised him he would not restart the nuclear and missile test I asked him just a few moments ago in the Oval Office. If North Korea was breaking that promise here's what he had Tuesday. It's very early reports we want to get out but. I'm very disappointed. Yeah. And debt and the president points to North Korea hitting the pause button on those sites as a key sign of progress really. The big sign of progress since the first sign in Singapore last summer. Of course Kim Dong in has not taken steps to dismantle his weapons program and if this is true that the re starting in rebuilding this site. And perhaps gearing up to start testing and some be a major step back you heard the president there say he be very disappointed. Yeah this as the president also announced he's dialing back some of those military exercises sell off the Korean Peninsula. Very interest in Karen Travers thanks for your reporting from the Oval Office appreciate that one last question for Connor Finnegan is Karen. Our talks there about what the significance of what this test would mean Connor. Remind us when the last time we saw I missile test from North Korea and what our State Department and pentagon affairs Hussein about. That the possibility of another launch. Well the last time North Korea launch an Intercontinental ballistic missile was a November 2017 before all of this. Rapprochement before these you know warming relations between the president. And Kim Jung and it's been an important part to the president to not have this sort of tangible example of North Korea's weapons program. You know is since it's since the same for summit they've taken steps they intended to commit to not do these launches at the president said. In his meeting with Kim Jung then he got a personal pledge. But to not have it in writing to not have an a declaration come out of Hanoi was really who failure according to a lot of analysts because it didn't codify a this pause in testing. So lot of nervous sighs watching the skies over the Korean finance one that's satellite imagery as well Connor Finney enforced at the State Department. Big story a North Korea today thank you for that Connor. Now a note from the Supreme Court in the battle over the 20/20 census some breaking news also this afternoon out of a federal court in California. A second judge now has ruled that the trump administration's decision at a citizenship. Quartet sip question to the 20/20 census. Is illegal and unconstitutional. They are this judge specifically singling out. Commerce secretary will Wilbur Ross. For violating the administrative procedures act in doing this they said that he was arbitrary and capricious and deciding to ask people. Their citizenship this is setting the stage for a major case before the Supreme Court next month a big. Big case a lot on the line for the 20/20 cents a some will be following it right here finally today another very interest in story this one involving president trump and his presidential daily intelligence briefing. Are only fair now who's one of our intelligence reporters joins us here leave. You know a lot of attention on the president's intelligence briefings Fisher Turk or North Korea and on the things that he should be presumably paying attention to. And you've obtained a rare statement from both the DN nine. In the CIA director overnight pushing back on a whole bunch of myths around the president's brief. Olson it's unusual relative but the statement up to for Karen. The part of his right the top and assertions made in several recent media stories about the president's daily brief are false unproductive and harmful to our nation's security. They go on the senate speculation about Oval Office means is wrong and they describe president trump as engaged and knowledgeable on the most complex national security issues. Amazing that they have to our top intelligence officials have to put out a statement saying that the president is engaged. If you doubted that I'm sort of interest in on its own. What prompted this we have any idea what that's cynical thing I went to though do not know what's in the CIA and I ask why now why for the statement out now and they've they won't say they've basically. Reason to believe it is in response to a series of stories have for the past two years there have been reporting on bouts we've been ordered some of that here's your elder president might shortened. It to brief scene seem nice things that are visual he does exactly wrong documents. That some of that sort of been in the public and I said so himself that he he prefers if you can get to the point at some point kind of thing what a few recent stories may involve a further one out of time magazine said. The president was behaved very behaved. Behaving with will for a nurse when it comes to some of the briefings and outright rejecting some intelligence assessments. More slain in New York Times reported that prefers are framing their briefs by economics and trade deal so they can answer the question that trump always ask who's winning. So it leads to believe this statement that came out though denying the CIA to assist in response to those same it. All this reporting about what's going on these very highly classified briefings is speculation it's it's his got you here you know. Two years in some over two years in the truck administration he has. And so critical of the intelligence agencies particularly the brass so many episodes. Over the past couple of years what you talked to a lot of these people off the record privately. Intelligence officials at both the DN IC IA elsewhere what what sort of the mood. Right now about. President trumpet how he views intelligence I kind of want to get the most we asked iconic question as they say their Q there has sound they're doing the work and they're not gonna let the politics get in the way and it. Every now and then they kind of stuff out of when president trump criticized the united codes for. For some. Testimony recently coast while statements and we stand by it. The statement you have kind of the opposite you have that would in on the CIA backing the president so I think from their perspective they're gonna do work. Very interest in stuff and how you have a great story up on abcnews.com. Right now as well leave Karen thanks so much for that he's reporting on the intelligence agencies and finally back to that story we told you about. Just a little while ago this stunning admission. By Republican senator Martha mix Sally of Arizona that she herself had been sexually assaulted by a superior. When she was in the united states air force Martha make Sally we should note was the first female fighter pilot to serve. In the US military and like to sheriff you know here's the moment from her testimony talking about her experience. So. Like Q I am also a military sexual assault survivor. But unlike so many brave survivors. I didn't report being sex with soft. Like so many women and men I didn't trust the system at the time. I blame myself. As seemed in confused. And I thought I was strong. But so powerless. The perpetrators abuse their position of power in profound ways. And in one case I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer. I stays silent for many years but later in my career. As a military grapple with scandals and are wholly inadequate responses. I felt the need to let some people now I too was a survivor. I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences where Handel. I almost separated from air force an eighteen years. Or my despair. Like many victims. I felt the system was reaping me all over again. Just quite compelling and emotional testimony from Martha mix Sally for more on this want to bring in our pentagon reporter Louis Martinez Louis. What's the Pentagon I know this is just happened but what's the Pentagon Hussein about her testimony in her her allegations she didn't name that the officer right. That's right and it's what clarify one thing she was the first female part of fighter pilot in combat. Not the first you know fighter pilot. We contacted the air force once we heard her compelling testimony. The air force told us that they were aware. Her comments but there they were looking into it I'm as we gathered from what she told us there in those and it was essentially her opening statement. She said that she never reported she never stepped forward with it late countless others have in the military who were victims of sexual assault. On this is initiative depending on takes very seriously. They really want victims to step forward because they want them to be have the care that is available to them. Both in eight medical way and also in his psychological way. As well as in prosecutorial assistants. Because they want to see the perpetrators of these acts to face justice they want accountability for these individuals. And so that depending on taking it very seriously but again let's remember. V are always measuring the incidence of sexual assault year by year. And the numbers seem to be increasing. Just alone in the this year alone we are expecting the report to come out in a couple of live by the end of the spring. And what we know we and we kept parameters to go by. I'm there is a sexual assault report no military service academies. I'm there was a 50% spike in the incidents there however there was not an increase in the number of victims stepping forward I'm from last year's report we know that there was a 10% increase in the number of reports so. If the incidents of sexual assault seemed to be dealing is seem to be going up and yet it's it's despite all the best efforts here at the turning. Blue Martinez forests at the Pentagon thanks so much for that Louis and one also bring into the conversation our correspondent Stephanie Ramos a member of the military Stephanie. Our struck for something Louie said there that. You know sort of the military's encouraging more women to come forward here's Martha makes Sally sort of setting an example on a very. Big stage in a very bright spotlight to come out like that can you give us a sense from your experience and where you know. How the military has been sort of responding to this influx in being in allegations how what sort of programs and they have in place now. Absolutely DeVon so this is certainly going to be something that resonates with. Every branch of the military both active and reserve we know that for the last several years the Department of Defense has tried to implement these programs. And and designated certain individuals to to be that person to take in the reports from women and from men. As low we mentioned this is something that they continue to work on. And that for instance in the army at that my particular reserve unit we've got a shark representative which stands for a sexual harassment assault response. Prevention team so they got that one person there that they unit as a whole Knowles if anything happens to them that they need to talk to someone. They can go and talk to that person so across all of that military branches that these programs are put in place so. Victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment can come forward. And they can fix the problem but as senator Max Allen said this has been going on for quite some time in the military has a long way to go DeVon. They sure do but great to see more women coming forward Stephanie Ramos force in New York think you. And thanks to all of you for joining us here and ABC news live in the briefing room where her everyday at 3:30 eastern time with the latest political headlines will be download. The ABC news have to follow all the stories you talked about today a lot on that after. I'm Devin Dwyer or Washington we'll see that for tomorrow.

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

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