Nielsen asks Congress for new authorities to deport and detain migrants


Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies before the House Homeland Security Committee on border security on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 6, 2019. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is asking Congress to change the laws to allow for faster deportation of migrant children from Central America, as well as the ability to detain families while they await their day in court.

In a letter to lawmakers on Thursday, Nielsen said her most immediate request is for the authority to return Central American unaccompanied children to their home countries if they “have no legal right to stay,” similar to the way the department repatriates Mexican children. The letter was first reported by NBC News.

According to Nielsen, the inability to deport these children has resulted in hundreds of Central American children entering Department of Homeland Security custody each day and ultimately being placed with sponsors in the United States.

Nielsen also said she will propose measures to allow DHS to keep migrant families in custody throughout their immigration proceedings, as well as a plan for Central Americans to apply for asylum in their home countries.

The administration has repeatedly called on Congress to make some of these changes to US law.

She wrote that the department needs these changes because it is “increasingly unable” to uphold its responsibility to control the situation at the southern border.

“We are grappling with a humanitarian and security catastrophe that is worsening by the day, and the Department has run out of capacity,” she wrote.

Nielsen said the department’s funds are also running out, despite recent additional money it received for humanitarian and operational work.

“[T]he situation is so dire we want to make notification to you now that we will require additional resources,” she wrote to the Hill.

The letter comes a day after the secretary signed a regional agreement with the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to try to address illegal immigration, combat criminal organizations and ultimately help with US border security.

“We are united, we are committed, we are operating jointly,” she said during the signing ceremony in Honduras Wednesday, but added that “more must be done to combat this crisis and the United States must see measurable improvements in the short term.”

Nielsen told Congress that in the meantime, the department is redirecting resources and personnel toward border security and migration management, and has asked for volunteers.

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