Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Wednesday described in harrowing detail the perils faced by migrant children in caravans trying to cross the US border — telling lawmakers the kids were victims of violence and exploitation at the hands of sadistic smugglers.
Nielsen also said the United States must address the “humanitarian catastrophe” by supporting President Trump’s call for a border wall and cracking down on illegal migrants.
“This is a crisis, pure and simple, and we need to respond accordingly. We cannot stand idly by as our border security is further compromised and our immigration laws are exploited,” she told the House Homeland Security Committee.
Nielsen added that migrant children are being exploited by nefarious “recycling rings” that repeatedly rent the same kids to adults who aren’t their relatives in order to make it easier to get into the US.
“Of great concern to me is that the children are being used as pawns to get into our country. We have encountered recycling rings, where innocent young people are used multiple times to help aliens gain illegal entry,” she said, explaining that smugglers simply use the same kids if the youngsters are returned to their countries.
“The flow of families and children has become a flood. Over the past five years, we have seen a 620 percent increase in families, or those posing as families, apprehended at the border,” she said.
“As a nation, we simply cannot stand for this. We must fix the system. Today’s migrant flows have created a humanitarian catastrophe.”
In a shocking disclosure, Nielsen said that rape is so common on the long journey north that every female over the age of 10 is being given a pregnancy test after being taken into custody by US law enforcement.
“Very unfortunately, because of the increase of violence, at ICE, when we have families with children, we have to give every girl a pregnancy test over 10. This is not a safe journey,” Nielsen said.
She went on, “We don’t want the smugglers to be able to convince parents to send their children on this perilous journey where they are absolutely victims of violence and abused.”
Nielsen said girls who arrive as part of large smuggled groups — and even those accompanied by their parents — are at risk of being raped while traveling more than 1,000 miles from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to the US-Mexico border.
Trump previously warned of the horrific threats young migrant girls face.
“One in three women is sexually assaulted on the dangerous journey north,” Trump said in a televised January speech from the White House about the need for border security.
“In fact, many loving mothers give their young daughters birth-control pills for the long journey up to the United States because they know they may be raped or sexually accosted or assaulted.”
DHS did not respond to questions about how many pregnancy tests had been administered and how many had come back positive.
Nielsen warned the situation will not improve.
“And I can report today that CPB is forecasting the problem will get worse this spring as the weather warms up,” she said, referring to Customs and Border Protection.
“At the current pace, we are on track to encounter close to 1 million illegal aliens at our southern border this year. ”
Democrats pushed back against Nielsen, and ripped Homeland Security for separating children from their families and for holding minors in what Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson called “cages.”
“Sir, we don’t use cages for children,” Nielsen shot back.
“In the border facilities that you’ve been to, they were not made to detain children. As the children are processed through, they are in some parts of those facilities. I’m being as clear as I can, sir,” she said.
“Yes or no, are we still putting children in cages?” Thompson (D-Miss.) replied.
“To my knowledge, CBP never purposely put a child in a cage,” Nielsen said.
“I seen the cages, I just want you to admit the cages exist,” Thompson declared.
“Sir, they’re not cages. They are areas of the border facility that are carved out for the safety and protection of those who remain there while they’re being processed,” Nielsen said.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) also focused on the issue — and put Nielsen on the spot in a sharp exchange.
“What is a chain-link fence enclosed into a chamber on a concrete floor? A cage?” Coleman asked.
“It’s a detention space, ma’am,” Nielsen replied.
“Is it different from what you put dogs in?” the congresswoman countered.
“Yes,” Nielsen said.
“In what sense?” Coleman asked.
“It’s larger,” the Homeland Security chief continued.
“Sounds like a dog cage,” Coleman said.