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Aaron Reichlin-Melnick @ReichlinMelnick
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At 10AM today, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan (@CBP_McAleenan) will be appearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for an important oversight hearing. I'll be livetweeting the hearing and pulling out any important parts of the testimony.…
McAleenan has already made his written testimony available. While I haven't had the chance to read it carefully, one very important thing to note is that he doesn't mention family separation or metering once.…
The hearing begins with Chairman Grassley praising the "important work" of CBP, describing it as a law enforcement agency. Grassley says he was impressed on private meeting with McAleenan about all the work he's done protecting migrants, which is... debatable at best.
Grassley says we're "long overdue" for aggressive funding for CBP personnel and infrastructure, tacitly pointing to the looming budget fight.
Grassley now claims that the recent caravans are violent and says that there are reports of "hundreds of men" throwing molotov cocktails and rocks.
Grassley now echoes the false and despicable narrative that limitations on detaining families are "legal loopholes." Opposing the detention of children is not a loophole. It's a fundamental principle that NO child should be locked up. Grassley appears to disagree.
Grassley also notes an extremely serious incident of a child being smuggled in by an adult that wasn't her parent and who was hurt by that adult. While it would be false to say this never happens, in reality we know it's less than .1% of all family units who arrive at the border.
At the same time, Grassley admits (as he must) that the majority of the caravan members are peaceful people who are seeking a better life. But he then falsely conflates those who support giving the caravan access to the asylum process with those who support open borders.
Grassley now pushing for Safe Third Country, arguing that people should be required to wait in Mexico. But he's wrong about what that means. Safe Third Country means that asylum seekers must apply in Mexico and CAN'T apply in the United States. A serious error.
Grassley also echoes concerns about "special interest aliens" who are "masking themselves" in the caravan. What does that mean? Well, that means the "Middle Easterns" that President Trump so idiotically claimed are part of the caravan.
Senator Feinstein now up, describes McAleenan as "sincere and forthright" in her meeting with him. She then jumps IMMEDIATELY to family separation and zero tolerance.
Feinstein also discusses the use of tear gas, saying that tear gas can't be aimed with precision and says "while the goal may have been to disperse a crowd... children were harmed in the process" and calls for this to never happen again.
@SenFeinstein also asks McAleenan to help process asylum seekers at the border, but then pivots to the "unlawful" and "unnecessary" deployment of military troops at the border, and the authorization of lethal force. She says this is a clear violation of the law (she's right!)
Senator John Cornyn is now up, says that McAleenan has "the most difficult job in government." Says some people want to "look at the border through a soda straw and pretend it's just one issue."
Cornyn says it's "easy for people to blame CBP" for issues at the border, which he says is not fair or accurate and that Congressional failures, cartel violence, and other issues are more to blame that officers just "enforcing the law."
Now it's @SenatorDurbin up, discussing that he agrees about more drug interdiction resources but turns to the caravan, saying that the Trump administration bears responsibility for driving migration through cutting aid, terminating #TPS, and cutting legal access to immigration.
@SenatorDurbin takes aim specifically at Trump's cutting of the Central American Minors program, which ended last year. The program, while not a total success and with numbers that weren't huge, was still an excellent program.
Kevin McAllenan (@CBP_McAleenan) is now up to give his opening statement. He says that CBP has "made great strides" in border enforcement, "turned around our hiring" by hiring an additional 500 agents and built some wall. Trump wants 10x that amount of agents, though.
McAleenan now describes shifting changes, including ~3000 people crossing or arriving at ports of entry in December, with around a large amount of them being parents with children. Worth noting, however, that 3,000/day was common only 15 years ago.
McAleenan now going towards that EXACT point, saying that he "fundamentally disagrees" with my assessment and others who say there is no crisis. His main point is the shift between family units and single adults, and limited numbers of Mexicans. But I don't buy it.
Yes, there are more Central Americans than Mexicans now, and yes, there are more family units, but there were 1.6 MILLION crossings two decades ago... compared to 400,000 last year. The average Border Patrol agent only arrests about 2-4 people per MONTH.
McAleenan says that the use of families is now something that smugglers do to specifically disrupt CBP processing. That's an extremely bold claim.
McAleenan says that only 1.5% of family members apprehended a year ago have been deported and claims that this is a sign that people are taking advantage of the system. But this is because of immigration court delays, not asylum-seekers having weak asylum claims
TRAC numbers from just days ago make clear that over 20% of all Central Americans whose asylum applications were decided on in 2018 won their claims. Even more were provided other avenues for staying in the United States.…
With @CBP_McAleenan done with his opening statement, Grassley begins questioning. He immediately talks about the use of tear gas last month, saying that CBP has deployed teargas over 100 times in the past decade, and talks about the use of "non-lethal tear-gas." Despicable.
Grassley now says that assaults against CBP has increased 45%. What Grassley doesn't say is that CBP's method of counting assaults is a farce.…
McAleenan now discusses a "dynamic situation" in Tijuana during the incident in which children were tear-gassed. He talks a lot about chaos and paints the caravan members as dangerous. What he wont' say is that CBP broke the law by not allowing them to apply for asylum when asked
McAleenan says that CBP acted professional throughout the entire incident and says that it's a credit to CBP that no migrant was injured. That is some chutzpah, folks.
Sen. Feinstein now asks McAleenan if he'll change his use of force policies to ensure that children are not tear gassed in the future. McAleenan says that no child was tear-gassed, objecting to the suggestion that CBP intended to tear-gas children. It's a weak rebuttal.
Feinstein asks McAleenan who specifically has the authority to use tear gas. McAleenan says it's not a situation where there is any one person who authorizes the use of tear gas. The individual agent on the scene makes the decision, apparently.
Feinstein then asks for the number of agents who "made the decision" to use tear gas and McAleenan says they're still investigating that. What's appalling about that suggestion is that it implies that CBP treats tear gas no differently than, say, the use of a taser.
McAleenan now addresses the famous photograph of a mom and her child running from tear gas and says it's "unfortunate that women and children were in the vicinity."
McAleenan now addresses new family separations, saying that 81 children have been separated from their parents since the President's EO, and says some were due to dangerous parents.
McAleenan says )astonishingly) that he's not aware of any new attempt to impose family separations. He should talk with his new DHS counterpart at ICE, Ronald Vitiello, who testified last month that they're still considering a "binary choice" policy to restart family separations.
Cornyn now up talking about cartels again, says it seems to him like "they're winning" based on how much money they make smuggling people to the border. Says Congress could fix the family unit problem by essentially getting rid of asylum for Central Americans.
Points to his own legislation, the doublespeak-named Humane Act, which would reduce paths to asylum for Central Americans, and gripes that not even other Republicans will support it. Gee, I wonder why.
Cornyn again mentions drugs being smuggled across the border, but as CBP itself acknowledges, the VAST majority of drugs come through ports of entry in vehicles.
Cornyn asks if McAleenan believes that migrants have been "coached to say the magic words" to ask for asylum. Interestingly, McAleenan actually avoids giving a clear answer to that, just saying that he believes that smugglers are aware that it's a good way to stay.
Cornyn now asking about the proposed Remain in Mexico agreement. McAleenan only mentions that there are ongoing negotiations but says no more. Cornyn says it would be a great plan.

*Ron Howard Narrator Voice*: It would not.
Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) up now talking about metering! He was recently at the Port of Hidalgo, comparing the ways in which 12 million people passed through the port compared to only 50 asylum seekers.
Leahy now asks McAleenan if he agrees with the DHS-OIG report that found that metering actually increases the number of people who cross the border without authorization.…
McAleenan says that there are currently no people waiting in line at Hidalgo. Why is that? Well, because INAMI is turning people away from even getting the opportunity to ask.
McAleenan now forced to return to Leahy's question and admits that it may have been possible and accepts the DHS OIG conclusion but says it was only from that time period.
McAleenan says that there are no limits to the number of people allowed to present at ports of entry. This is very disingenuous, and, IMHO, close to misleading Congress. When metering began, monthly numbers of people asking for asylum at ports became SUSPICIOUSLY flat.
Leahy now asking whether CBP engages in racial profiling by pulling over people in Vermont, goes back to the incident in which a CBP officer pulled him over and discussing the dragnets that CBP does even against American citizens.
Senator Jeff Flake now on to metering, asks McAleenan to describe it. McAleenan now says that it's a "balancing" policy they call "queue management." On any given day there are only 3-4 ports on the southern border" that have "any backup at all."
I'm sure @VoltaireLaFlare is looking forward to helping depose McAleenan about this completely laughable idea. We have documented evidence over 100 people being turned away from dozens of ports of entry.
Flake asks if people are registered at ports of entry and McAleenan admits that people are not actually recorded, and says that people are "allowed to wait if they like."
McAleenan's ongoing description of metering is such a false narrative of what's actually going on at the border that you have to wonder whether he's knowingly misrepresenting the situation to Congress or whether his own agents are lying to him.
McAleenan now back to the issue of family separations and the use of DNA, says that checking who's family is purely done by interview. Once again raises the bogeyman of people smuggling children who aren't their own across the border. While this does happen, it's extremely rare.
And now @SenatorDurbin is back to talking about drugs and fentanyl. Asks why is it that CBP isn't focusing more on the deployment of technology to scan vehicles at ports of entry rather than families. "Focus on fentanyl, not families" might be an interesting new slogan...
And @SenatorDurbin continues, getting angry at the fact that CBP is only asking for $44 million for the deployment of vehicle-scanning technology vs $5 BILLION for the wall. McAlleenan insists that this is more than enough.
Worth noting, on the other hand, that from a civil liberties standpoint I'm not so sure that pushing for every single vehicle coming into the US to be screened with essentially backscatter machines (like at the airport) is not necessarily a good thing.
And now back to that great new slogan from @SenatorDurbin, "I wish you were just as passionate about fentanyl as about these families."
Now @SenatorDurbin asks about the "so-called asylum gap," and asks McAleenan if he'll just concede with the fact that many people ask for asylum because they're dangerous! Yes, thank you very much!
McAleenan's response? Well, Central America is doing better and murder rates are down so violence can't explain it all. @SenatorDurbin doesn't like that response at all, pointing to McAleenan's own testimony last year that violence and crime are a huge push factor.
Now back to fentanyl as McAleenan feels a need to defend his record. And in doing so, he makes it clear that, yes, fentanyl is primarily smuggled into the United States at ports of entry or through the mail. Not across the border.
Now on to questions from Senator Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee). Asks whether it's true that the caravans pose a threat to our national security. McAleenan begins by contrasting the October caravan with the April caravan, says that one was organized by religious groups and smaller.
McAleenan's claims that the April caravan was basically no threat should be news to @SecNielsen and the President who claimed back then that the caravan was a huge threat.
McAleenan once again points to the behavior of the caravan at the Mexican border to claim that they're different and a danger. But the only reason they were prevented from entering Mexico was because of intervention from Trump, which didn't happen with the April caravan.
Senator Mike Lee pushes now for Safe Third Country agreement (which would require Central Americans to apply in Mexico and bar eligibility for asylum in the US), comparing it to what Europe has done.
Mike Lee now discusses the "related by analytically distinct" Remain in Mexico plan which would require those seeking asylum in the US to wait in Mexico. They're more than distinct, they're fundamentally at odds. One allows people to apply for asylum in the US, the other doesn't.
Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) begins by discussing the important contributions of refugees and asylum-seekers to her state. Thank you Senator Klobuchar for beginning that way!
Klobuchar asks McAleenan if they need more resources to efficiently and expeditiously process asylum claims. McAleenan agrees, saying CBP is overwhelmed.

He also says CBP increased their capacity to process asylum-seekers at ports of entry. I don't buy it. Where's the evidence?
Klobuchar now asks McAleenan if he has any regrets from family separation. His one regret, echoing Ronald Vitiello last month, is that the CBP "lost the trust" of people. Again, an appalling failure by DHS to acknowledge the grievous error and harm caused by family separation.
Now Senator Kennedy is up, who begins by asking McAleenan to agree that "legal immigration is good for America," which he of course does. Kennedy then continues by claiming that illegal immigration is bad for legal immigrants and asks if other countries have border walls.
Senator Kennedy basically using the beginning of his speeches to attack the strawman of open borders, emphasize the importance of Israel's walls, and then weirdly asks about Saudi Arabia's border wall with Yemen, an appalling comparison given the Saudi's disastrous war with Yemen
The hearing devolves into a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego of border wall quiz questions from Senator Kennedy to McAleenan.
"Have you ever heard of anyone trying to sneak into China?" asks Senator Kennedy, trying to make a point that illegal immigration is "ironically" flattering. McAleenan, clearly more knowledgeable, can't stop a chuckle from coming out and says North Koreans sneak into China.
I applaud Senator Kennedy for strongly reinforcing the principles that America is a nation of immigrants (I wish he'd tell that to the President), but I have to laugh when he said "I'm thinking about introducing a bill, Illegal Immigration is Illegal."
Now on to Senator Blumenthal, who basically gets McAleenan to admit that it's a bad idea to build walls across the entire border. McAleenan also, despite lots of dodging, admits that CBP didn't actually request a specific number of troops or even troops in general, just support.
Now Blumenthal asks about the famed April 23 memo in which CBP states that it's "permissible" to separate families, the smoking gun as it were about the existence of a family separation policy.…
The memo argues that "family separation" is the most effective way to deter asylum seekers from the United States, according to the Washington Post
Blumenthal then pushes McAleenan to admit that there was a family separation policy and McAleenan doesn't budget at all, saying that 20% of families weren't separated when prosecuted. That's... not really a defense.
Now it's on to Senator Hirono (@maziehirono) who begins by highlighting that CBP has many different missions, and accidentally says CPB and thus draws attention to the fact that CBP is a huge tongue twister to say.
Sen. Hirono now asked McAleenan how many miles of wall will be built. McAleenan says 1100 miles. Hirono then points out that the vast majority of this land is the in the hands of private owners, requiring major use of eminent domain to take that land.
Sen. Hirono's point that many homeowners will be forced to give up their property is very important. McAleenan says that the property acquisition process "is significant" and involves consulting with stakeholders. But according to border groups, that consultation isn't happening.
Sen. Hirono now on to family detention, and the partnership between CBP and ICE on family detention. Asks how many people are in family detention. McAleenan says that on any given time, there are 2500 people.
Sen. Hirono now pointing out that the cost of family detention is $320 per day per family, compared to the $38 cost of the Family Case Management Program. Asks him why he thinks that isn't better. McAleenan says, in essence, we need to detain families to deter them from coming.
McAleenan's argument is frustratingly the same as the Obama administration; hurt families, lock them up, refuse to release them, as deterrence. But decisions about bond and custody must not be based on group punishment deterrence princples.…
McAleenan is arguing the same thing that Obama's administration did; it's okay to lock up a child and their parents even if they will attend all their court hearings, because locking up that child and parent deters other parents and children from coming. We must do better.
Now on to Senator Harris (@KamalaHarris), asking why the San Ysidro port was shut down for five hours at a time when no migrants were there, given the extremely deleterious effect on commerce. McAleenan says that the decision was done by the local port based on intelligence.
Senator Harris now drawing attention to the claim, repeated by McAleenan, Nielsen, and Trump, that people are "grabbing children" to bring with them across the border. Asks how many people are being prosecuted for trafficking if that's true.
And now on to Senator Coons (@ChrisCoons), saying he is struck by the fact that in a 15 page hearing statement submitted by McAleenan ahead of the hearing, that only a single sentence had to do with the wall. Good catch!
McAleenan's weakly responds that he didn't mention it in his written testimony because he knew it would come up during the hearing. He says that fencing works, but agrees with Sen. Coons that the President's concrete wall is unnecessary. I get the point, but fences are walls.
Sen. Coons makes an interesting question about the waiver process under the President's Travel Ban, and asks how many people CBP has granted that waiver for. Love the question, but agree it's probably more for Sec. State Pompeo to answer than McAleenan.
Really great question from Sen. Coons asking if information CBP collects from unaccompanied children about their sponsors won't shared with ICE. McAleenan disagrees and says the information is always going to be shared. Coons not happy with the answer.
Now on to Senator Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) who begins as with many others with a discussion of fentanyl. Asks for specifics, but "it seems like we're a long way from being close to an adequate surveillance and adequate intervention" from fentanyl trafficking.
Senator Whitehouse asking whether there's a serious effort to indict Chinese fentanyl traffickers. Again, worth noting that everyone here agrees that fentanyl is NOT primarily smuggled across the border, despite the President claiming otherwise.
Sen. Whitehouse now points out to previous McAleenan statements against President Trump's concrete wall proposals. To be honest though, this is mostly sophistry. To affected communities and the environment, bollard fencing IS a wall, and Trump will be happy to claim as much.
Now we're back to Senator Kennedy, fresh off of "no one wants to sneak into China," who asks why the wall costs $25/million a mile. McAleenan says it doesn't.
Kennedy asks McAleenan "You ever drove along an interstate highway?" Compares the border wall to the concrete soundproofing walls alongside interstate highways, which cost substantially less. McAleenan kind of struggles for a moment to get his response together.
McAleenan very clearly trying to respectfully disagree with Senator Kennedy without making it seem obvious that he thinks Senator Kennedy has no idea what he's talking about.
And now on to Senator Cruz, new possessor of a scraggly salt-and-pepper beard (Just FYI Ted, it doesn't work). Cruz begins by asking why more families are coming to the border in the past few months. McAleenan says it's purely due to smugglers telling people to bring kids.
I don't buy it. McAleenan than points to lowest months in recorded history, the months following the President's election, to compare current numbers. That's just a terrible comparator to use the biggest outlier out there.
McAleenan says, and I truly believe him, that he thinks what happens to families and children as they come to the border is deplorable. But he fails to recognize the ways in which forcing people to wait in Mexico increases that risk of danger.
Now Sen. Cruz asks about family detention, and AGAIN McAleenan emphasizes the Jeh Johnson actions under the Obama administration to detain families as a deterrent. I've been to family detention centers. They are cruel, inhumane, and harmful to children.
I wish McAleenan expressed the same level of concern for the health and well-being of children in US government custody as he does for those who are suffering on their way to protection in the United States. Detaining families hurts children.…
Sen. Feinstein now back to ask about detention of children in short-term custody. McAleenan says that there is no area of CBP custody more carefully managed. Well, I've been to the hieleras in Tucson sector as part of our lawsuit, and he's dead wrong.…
McAleenan says kids are treated well, can watch TV, and get everything they need. Again, this could not be further from the truth. We have evidence that this is not the case, and the fact that he tried to essentially tell Feinstein not to believe her own staffers is telling.
Here's a picture of a child locked in a trash-strewn cell with his parents. Here's another picture of a child playing on a filthy floor. All of these were in CBP custody.
Senator Kennedy comes in to try to defend CBP, asking if McAleenan's agents care about children. McAleenan clearly does, but his agents, well, I have personally spoken to children who were screamed at by CBP agents and called liars for asking for asylum.
If @CBP_McAleenan truly cared about children he'd come to talk to the children himself, to the advocates who work with them, and to their parents who can tell him to his face exactly had badly his own agents treated kids in their custody.
Or he could even read this report from February, which emphasizes EXACTLY how poorly children have been treated.…
And that's it for the hearing. My overall impression is that McAleenan is a smart man who cares about doing a good job, but has either massive blind spots or is intentionally downplaying serious problems at the agency. I look forward to more oversight in the new Congress.
Thanks to all that followed!
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