WATCH LIVE: Homeland Security Chief Faces Off With Democrats On Border Crisis

Homeland Security acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan is testifying on Capitol Hill Thursday as Democrats step up oversight of an immigration crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee could bring McAleenan to task for strained conditions at U.S. immigration detention centers and cases of children separated from their parents.

Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, the panel’s chairman, says he wants McAleenan to explain the Trump administration’s child separation policy and its treatment of immigrants.

“I’m very glad he is coming. And I think America needs to hear what he has to say because he’s accountable,” Cummings said. “My aim has always been to show America what is happening and then ask America, ‘Is this what you believe in? Does this reflect your values?’ I believe that if you show it to them and they see it and see children in cages and they see how they’re treated and they hear the testimony of members of Congress and others, that they will take the appropriate action.”

McAleenan is the former acting commissioner for Customs and Border Protection. He began serving as the CBP commissioner in March 2018 before being elevated as the acting head of homeland security in April.

McAleenan simultaneously serves as CBP’s acting commissioner.

The former agency secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, resigned from the post April 7 following a turbulent tenure at the post, and McAleenan was named as her replacement that day.

The ranking Republican for the House oversight committee, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, said McAleenan will likely touch on delays getting emergency, supplemental border aid from Congress. On Wednesday, McAleenan was visiting McAllen, Texas, for a close-up view of the CBP’s largest immigration detention center.

Jordan said McAleenan will touch on his experience on that trip and his nearly 20 years as a CBP official to his testimony.

“I think Secretary McAleenan is going to talk about what they are doing, talk about the fact it would have been nice if 2.5 months ago when the president asked for the supplemental aid to deal with the crisis on the border … if the Democrats would have helped us get the money then instead of saying the crisis was manufactured, it was contrived and when the real crisis got worse, trying to blame the president,” he said.

North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, another member of the House oversight committee, said he advised McAleenan to “be very transparent and very forthcoming” in Thursday’s hearing.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to see what’s being done, what has not being done and candidly what we can do as Congress to alleviate the crisis at the border,” Meadows said. “Not just from a humanitarian standpoint, but certainly from the influx of hundreds of thousands of people that we don’t have the facilities nor the ability to handle properly.”

Cummings says he also wants to know how much the U.S. government is spending on the detention of children, which he said may cost as much as $350 a day. His panel also wants to know exactly how many children are being separated from their parents, he added.

The Maryland Democrat said while Republicans have accused Democrats of attacking Border Patrol agents, he said that’s not the point. Rather, he wants his panel to get to the bottom of the border crisis.

Thursday’s hearing comes amid a fight between Republicans and Democrats over which policies best deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border. The hearing also comes after dueling White House and congressional visits to evaluate conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Friday, a group of freshman House Democratic members delivered emotional testimony before the House oversight committee on those concerns. The lawmakers recently traveled with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus July 1 to the border to examine the conditions.

“We do have a crisis at our border, it is one of morality,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., said. “As we have seen this current strategy unfold, intentional and cruelly created by the Trump administration, dead set on sending a hate-filled message that those seeking refuge are not welcome in America, in our America.”

Also on Friday, Vice President Pence and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., led a Republican congressional delegation to a Border Patrol facility in McAllen. The visit delivered dramatic images of more than 300 detained men, some wearing disposable face masks, standing in cramped quarters behind chain-link fences.

“For [Second Lady] Karen [Pence] and me, it was frankly heart breaking, as parents, to talk to young children who told us of having walked two to three months up the Peninsula to cross into our country,” Pence said after the visit to a detention facility. “That has to change.”

This Friday, a bipartisan group of House members, led by Reps. Lloyd Smucker, R-Penn., and Dean Phillips, D-Minn., plan to visit points of entry, a Border Patrol station and a processing center. The group, known as the Problem Solvers Caucus, said they hope the fact-finding mission will lead to new solutions.

“The crisis at the border is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation and must be addressed by Congress,” Smucker said in a statement. “I am hopeful that the Problem Solvers Caucus can once again work together to put forth bipartisan solutions to this critical issue.”

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