WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's top immigration officials on Sunday defended conditions at migrant processing facilities on the U.S. southern border, after Democrats criticized the treatment of detainees including a lack of food for some children.
"We have no evidence that children went hungry," acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said on ABC's "This Week."
McAleenan said a New York Times report published Sunday about conditions at the facility in Clint, Texas, was unsubstantiated because "there's adequate food and water, because the facility's cleaned every day, because I know what our standards are and I know they've been followed because we have tremendous levels of oversight. Five levels of oversight."
McAleenan acknowledged the challenges at the facilities, which the independent DHS inspector general last week called dangerously overcrowded in some cases. The report said children at three of five Texas facilities had no access to showers, no laundry facilities and limited access to a change of clothes.
"It's an extraordinarily challenging situation," McAleenan said, noting more than 500,000 people have crossed the southern border since Dec. 30. "We're trying to provide as much space and as much nice a setting as we possibly can while children are in our custody."
Congress last week passed a $4.6 billion emergency spending bill aimed at improving conditions for migrants apprehended at the southern border. The bill didn't contain added protections for child migrants proposed by House Democrats — who sought to release migrants from sub par detention facilities — after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider the Democrats' demands.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said on "Fox News Sunday" that he thought the facilities were in pretty good shape. He said House Democrats are to blame for poor conditions because they won't fund more detention beds for immigrants and because they won't change laws to make it harder to seek asylum claim at the border.
"Ultimately they are complaining about the numbers they are attracting here," he said.
Asked about the inspector general's report, Cuccinelli said that over the past month, the number of children in overcrowded detention has dropped dramatically.
"It is already changed," he said. "That is not happening with respect to children."
McAleenan said the number of children in custody has declined to 350 as of Saturday from 2,500 on June 1, thanks to the additional funding from Congress.
Cuccinelli said the administration would like language to change asylum rules attached to a must-pass piece of legislation, but he demurred when asked specifically whether the White House would try to use a measure to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
"Those false claims are coming because Congress, especially the House, refuses to take the steps necessary to fix the loopholes that you can drive a truck through," he said.
House Democratic leaders have yet to set any immigration bill on its July agenda.
Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Sunday outlined four steps he wants Trump to take to address the migrant influx.
He said DHS should improve conditions at holding facilities, hire more agents and immigration judges to process migrants at ports of entry, create a process for people from Central American nations to apply for asylum and install permanent leadership at DHS.
"While incompetence is rife in this administration, including at the Department of Homeland Security, there is clearly more at play here," the Mississippi Democrat said. "Since taking office, President Trump and his administration have ignored the rule of law and thrown well-established norms out the window in order to push their anti-immigrant agenda."
By Erik Wasson
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