Washington — Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is expected to face aggressive questioning from House Democrats about her role in spearheading the implementation of the Trump administration’s hardline immigration agenda at a public hearing Wednesday morning.
Nielsen, who has managed to keep her job despite reports of rifts with the White House, is scheduled to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee, led by Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, at 10 a.m. ET.
The main line of questioning from the committee’s Democratic majority will center on President Trump’s controversial national emergency declaration, his proposed border wall, the discontinued family-separation policy and the deaths of migrant children in U.S. custody, two congressional aides told CBS News.
Follow along below for live updates on the hearing:
Chair Thompson: “A great deal” has happened since Nielsen last testified
In his opening remarks, Chairman Thompson said “a great deal” has happened since Nielsen last testified before his committee nearly a year ago.
“The Department of Homeland Security separated thousands of children from their parents at the border. Two small children died in the Department’s custody,” Thompson said.
He also noted that the president shut down the government for 35 days and recently declared a national emergency in search of “money for a border wall.” The chairman urged Nielsen to partake in a “serious discussion” to devise an effective strategy to approach border security.
“Today, the secretary can choose whether to be complicit in this administration’s misinformation campaign or she can correct the record,” he said.
What are Democrats expected to grill Nielsen on?
Although some members of the committee will likely delve into other immigration-related issues, two congressional aides told CBS News the hearing will largely focus on border security and Nielsen’s oversight of the administration’s stringent immigration enforcement efforts.
According to the aides, the three main issues Democrats will be questioning Nielsen on are the following:
- The president’s controversial emergency declaration: Mr. Trump continues to defend his national emergency proclamation, which he is relying on to unilaterally access billions of dollars from military construction funds to build a border wall. The move is being challenged in court through a multi-state lawsuit and in Congress through a resolution of disapproval that has passed the House.
- The discontinued family separation policy: In early 2018, the U.S. government implemented a policy to forcibly separate migrant children from their parents near the U.S.-Mexico border designed to deter migration from Central America, which had increased in recent months. Before the president was forced to rescind the policy after massive public uproar, more than 2,600 children were separated from their parents. A court order forced the Trump administration to reunify the families it separated, but today, some children remain separated from their families.
- The deaths of migrant youth in U.S. custody: In December, two migrant children from Guatemala — Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, 8 — died in Border Patrol custody. Their deaths provoked scathing criticism of the Trump administration by Democrats and prompted U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to order medical checks on every child in its custody.
1 of 4 hearings for Democrats to scrutinize the administration on immigration
The Homeland Security Committee hearing is one of four simultaneous hearings in which congressional Democrats will get a chance to scrutinize the Trump administration’s immigration policies with their new oversight powers.
CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the DHS inspector general will appear before the House Appropriations Committee.
Additionally, dozens of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients will appear before the House Judiciary Committee to detail their experiences under the programs — which the administration is seeking to terminate.
The backdrop: A “breaking point” for U.S. officials along the border
The president, Nielsen and other administration officials have advocated for stricter immigration enforcement and the construction of border barriers by pointing to what they believe is a humanitarian and national security crisis along the southwestern border.
On Tuesday, McAleenan, the CBP commissioner, said the situation remained at a “breaking point” for U.S. border officials, citing a significant surge in the number of migrant families apprehended near the border in February.
His agency announced Tuesday afternoon that U.S. immigration authorities apprehended more than 76,000 migrants — including about 36,000 families — along the U.S.-Mexico border last month, making it the busiest February for border officials in the last 12 years.