The government is on track to catch nearly 100,000 immigrants crossing the border illegally this month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday, renewing the administration’s plea for Congress to do something.
That number would be the highest in more than a decade, and it’s more troubling than the worst years because now the immigrants are increasingly children and families who, despite being here illegally, are almost impossible to deport.
“The situation at our Southern border has gone from a crisis, to a national emergency, to a near systemwide meltdown,” Ms. Nielsen said in delivering an update on the state of her department 16 years after it was established.
Ms. Nielsen said the border wall is part of the solution, but also said Congress must change the laws to allow for detention and faster deportations of immigrant children and families who are living in the U.S. illegally.
According to the latest numbers, 98 percent of those migrants caught at the border in 2017 are still in the U.S. today, underscoring how difficult it is to remove them in the current framework.
March’s nearly 100,000 immigrants — which includes those encountered at ports of entry demanding admittance without permission, and those nabbed by agents after they jumped the line between the ports — compares to about 76,000 in February.
At the beginning of this decade, the rates were less than 30,000 a month.
Ms. Nielsen said her department’s challenges go well beyond the border.
She said that while Islamist terrorism is still the biggest terror threat, her department is not ignoring dangers of right-wing domestic terrorism, drawing an equivalence among the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, last year’s Pennsylvania synagogue shooting and last week’s massacre at mosques in New Zealand.
“I want to make one thing very clear: We will not permit such hate in our homeland,” she said.
More broadly, Ms. Nielsen said, her department — created as government’s solution to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — is not enough to surmount today’s threats. She said what’s needed is a “whole of society” defense against election hacking, corporate cyberattacks and smuggling cartels that dictate the flow of contraband across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The ground beneath our feet has shifted. Our enemies and adversaries have evolved. And the arms of government are swinging too slowly to protect the American people,” she said.