Donald Trump declared the situation on the border a national emergency, a status he solidified with a veto earlier this month. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress that Trump wasn’t kidding. Unless Congress provides more money for detention facilities and border enforcement soon, Nielsen warned Congress that a “system-wide meltdown” would take place:
Over a month after President Trump declared a national emergency to build a border wall after Congress refused to provide sufficient funding, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote a letter to members of the House and Senate with an “urgent request” for assistance in stemming what she described as a tide of migrants overwhelming the border. Nielsen wrote that the agency faces a “system-wide meltdown.”
“DHS facilities are overflowing, agents and officers are stretched too thin, and the magnitude of arriving and detained aliens has increased the risk of life-threatening incidents,” Nielsen wrote, citing increased numbers of migrants arriving per month in large groups.
Nielsen wrote that her “greatest concern was for the children,” as Customs and Border Protection currently has over 1,200 unaccompanied children in custody. The Trump administration has been widely criticized for earlier policies towards migrant children, such as separating families and keeping minors in poorly equipped detention facilities.
The only option left in some areas is to release the detainees and hope they appear in court as scheduled. If that sounds familiar, it should. Last week, CBS reported on the crisis after it appeared that the Trump administration had returned to “catch and release” practices. Nielsen denied that the administration had changed policies at the time, but said that they had reached capacity at their detention facilities and had run out of options.
At the time, CBS passed along an accusation that Nielsen and DHS were staging massive releases as political theater:
Yesterday, however, PBS reported that the issue isn’t being staged as political theater. The surge in migrants is real and it’s taxing the system to its “breaking point,” not just for the US but also for Mexico. That government is sending troops to its own southern border to prevent mass migration from destabilized Central American nations.
The issue is not just numbers but demographics. The surge in families has “exhausted” the resources of the Customs and Border Protection agency. The problem is a political failure that has frozen the immigration system in its status of the 1990s rather than adapting it to the needs for today:
“We’ve had five years of warnings that this was coming,” Robert Moore notes, “and we’ve done nothing.” That’s because both parties benefit from the political stalemate and have no incentives to compromise on immigration and border security. Until incentives emerge for compromise and a mandate for an immigration system that matches today’s challenges, we’ll continue to see scenes like this … in the campaign ads for both parties.
The one thing everyone should be able to agree on after watching this, though, is that we have an emergency on the southern border. Congress needs to act on it, especially if they want to argue that it’s their job to do so.