WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid growing outcry over the treatment of migrants and the move to effectively end asylum on the U.S.-Mexico border, Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, testified before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday.
McAleenan anticipates border emergency funds to reach the southern border later this month
“About half of the funding is dedicated to enhancing facilities at the border, where we can provide additional space, reduce overcrowding, and improve the care of those who are in custody of CBP during their short stay,” McAleenan said.
McAleenan said the agency has already built four temporary tent facilities, two in South Texas and two in El Paso, and there will be an extra 4,500 spaces by the end of July.
“The rest of the money covers a range of issues, from paying for the surge force that’s down there helping with the humanitarian mission, add to our medical contracts so we can provide medical professionals in our facilities,” he said. “It augments our ability to pay for supplies and food, in reference to six million meals that we provided.”
McAleenan also said the number of family separations at the border has fallen and that separations are done only for compelling reasons. He said fewer than 1,000 children have been separated from the 450,000 families who have crossed the border since October. He said they are separated because of health and safety concerns, among other reasons.
Lawmakers questioned McAleenan about the policy that last year resulted in the separation of more than 2,700 children from their parents. That policy has since been revised, he said.
A Republican member of the Committee asked McAleenan if there is any truth to reports that Mexican cartels, specifically the Gulf, Sinaloa, and Zetas cartels, were “profiting massively” from migrant trafficking. McAleenan said, “Definitely, yes. Three billion dollars-plus a year.”
He testified that he met a family from Honduras who told him on Wednesday that they paid $10,000 to come across into the United States.
McAleenand added that smugglers set up groups of migrant adults with a pool of “available” children, so adults can claim to be part of a family unit.
“People know that a child is a very valuable way to get into the United States, so they are only bringing one child with them at a time,” McAleenan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.