Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (left), D-Mississippi, again requested Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen's (right) appearance before his committee. Official Photos
Photo by Official Photos
JACKSON In a scathing letter, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called on Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen to appear before the congressional Committee on Homeland Security.
Thompson, the committee's chairman, first called on her to appear in a letter he sent on Jan. 4—the day after Democrats took control of Congress. In that letter, he asked her to testify on Feb. 6 about Trump's demands for a border wall and about the deaths of immigrant children in U.S. custody late last year, which he accused DHS of telling "outright lies" about.
Nielsen, though, told the committee she would be unavailable to appear before Congress due to the government shutdown, which President Trump forced after Democrats refused to give him funding for a border wall. But Trump and Congress ended the shutdown last Friday.
"Your decision to refuse my invitation to testify before the Committee on Homeland Security regarding our nation's border security on February 6, 2019, is unreasonable and unacceptable," Thompson wrote in a letter Tuesday. "I strongly urge you to reconsider."
Nielsen, Thompson noted, made "numerous public appearances and comments regarding border security" during the shutdown.
"Your attempt to use the president's recent shutdown as an excuse not to testify before Congress prior to the impending shutdown is outrageous," the Mississippi congressman wrote. "As Secretary of Homeland Security, you should be prepared to testify on border security, the very issue that caused the recent shutdown, any time and certainly prior to the potential February 15 lapse in appropriations."
Last week's agreement to end the shutdown only extends government funding through until Feb. 15. If Congress does not strike a deal with the Trump administration on border security, possibly including Trump's demand for border wall funding, another shutdown could begin.
"The recent federal government shutdown jeopardized homeland security, cost our economy $11 billion, and caused incalculable harm to the country," Thompson wrote in the letter. "The nation is just days away from President Trump again shutting down the government. Your failure to engage Congress only makes averting another shutdown more difficult."
By Thursday, Nielsen had not responded to Thompson's second request, but he wrote that he would "ensure the committee fulfills its oversight responsibilities on this important matter."
"Chairman @BennieGThompson is right. For @DHSgov Sec Neilson to refuse to testify on Border Security is absolutely unacceptable," tweeted Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., a member of the committee. "Congress has a constitutional duty to oversee the Executive Branch."
Nielsen appeared before Congress, though not before Thompson's committee, on Jan. 4, and in an effort to make the case for President Trump's proposed border wall, falsely claimed that the U.S. caught thousands of terrorists at the border last year. Justice Department records, however, show that there were no such apprehensions.
Deaths of Children on Trump's Watch
Among the deaths Thompson wants to ask Nielsen about is that of 8 Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who died on Christmas Day. His death came a week after Border Patrol agents apprehended him and his father for entering the country illegally just miles away from an El Paso border crossing on Dec. 18.
Felipe and his father crossed into the U.S. in a bid to escape poverty in their homeland and for educational opportunities during a time when the Trump administration is making it more difficult for immigrants to request asylum at U.S. borders, as federal law allows.
Earlier that month, on Dec. 8, another child, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, died at an El Paso hospital of shock and dehydration while in CBP custody. Her death, though, came just 27 hours after agents detained her and her father at a border crossing. Her funeral was held on Christmas Day, but her mother was too distraught to attend, and U.S. Border Patrol agents were still holding her father.
Though six adults died in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agents custody in 2018, Felipe and Jakelin were the first children to die in custody in more than a decade.
In his first letter to Nielsen on Jan. 4, Thompson requested "any documents, records, memoranda, correspondence, or other communications" related to "the care and treatment of children in CBP custody, from November 1, 2018, to the present, including documents related to the deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez."
Ashton Pittman is the state reporter for the Jackson Free Press. Follow him on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Email him story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.