In a series of hearings Wednesday on Capitol Hill, top Trump Administration officials strongly defended President Donald Trump's emergency declaration to funnel more money to construction of a border wall, arguing the recent surge of illegal immigration along the southern border with Mexico is threatening to overwhelm U.S. border enforcement efforts.
"This is not a manufactured crisis, this is truly an emergency," said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who sparred repeatedly with Democrats at a House hearing about not only the border emergency, but the policy of separating immigrant children from their families in some cases at their border.
"Illegal immigration is simply spiraling out of control," Nielsen told the House Homeland Security Committee. "We face a crisis, a real, serious and sustained crisis at our border."
DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen defends Pres. Trump's criticism of U.S. immigration policies: "I'm happy to meet with anyone who has a suggested solution. No rational person would design an immigration system like we have to today." https://t.co/cLfjzIWOLn pic.twitter.com/kSGtr5Cik9— ABC News (@ABC) March 6, 2019
"We are on track to encounter close to one million illegal aliens at our southern border this year," Nielsen said.
Across the Capitol, the head of the Border Patrol emphasized much the same message to a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"From the experience of our agents and officers on the ground, it is indeed both a border security — and a humanitarian — crisis, " said Kevin McAleenan, the Border Patrol chief.
"In fact, the Border Patrol has already apprehended more families crossing illegally than during all of last year," McAleenan added.
Democrats clashed with administration officials on the figures being used by both the Administration and the President, arguing illegal immigration flows were much larger two decades ago.
"I want to know is what the President said, is it accurate or not?" pressed Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI).
"I just don't know the context of his statement," Nielsen said, parrying Langevin's questions.
Rep. Jim Langevin challenges Pres. Trump's claim that there is a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border due to alleged record crossings and apprehensions: "As you really have conceded yourself... the facts are actually the opposite." https://t.co/jQMNiHopcs pic.twitter.com/K6y8R2IYqZ— ABC News (@ABC) March 6, 2019
The hearings on border security came as Senate Republicans wrestled with a House-passed resolution to block President Trump's national emergency declaration in order to bypass Congress and shift more money into a border wall.
A vote in the Senate is likely next week.
"We're all concerned about the constitutional issues here," said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), one of many GOP Senators not thrilled with the precedent set by the President's decision. "But we are probably even more concerned about border security."
© 2019 Cox Media Group.