WASHINGTON (CN) – A top Trump administration immigration enforcement official implored lawmakers Thursday to make changes to asylum laws, saying only Congress can take the steps necessary to cut down on the number of people trying to illegally enter the United States through the southern border.
“Absent these changes, current laws will continue to be exploited and the pull factors they create will only result in more illegal immigration and worsen the humanitarian crisis,” Matthew Albence, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Thursday.
Democrats, however, called Albence’s proposed changes to immigration laws unnecessary or cruel, saying the Trump administration’s own policies have put undue pressure on immigration authorities.
“It is a false choice to believe that more migrants need to be unnecessarily detained and that cruel and exclusionary immigration laws need to be enacted in order to increase security in our country,” Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., said Thursday.
Appearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of Homeland Security, Albence was the latest Trump administration official to go before Congress amid an increased focus by Democrats on the administration’s immigration policy.
Albence called the number of people attempting to enter the United States at the southern border an “unprecedented national security and humanitarian crisis.” To help cut down on the flow of people to the border, he asked Congress to make changes to the system by which the federal government assesses asylum claims from people who say they fear persecution in their country, calling the current standard too easy to manipulate.
He also said lawmakers should end a settlement agreement that imposed limits on how long the federal government can hold children in immigration custody, known as the Flores agreement.
The calls for legislative changes have been a common refrain from Trump officials, but Democrats on the panel were not on board with Albence’s suggestions.
Roybal-Allard, who chairs the subcommittee, said it is in large part the Trump administration’s policies, not simply immigration laws, that are straining the federal government’s ability to detain people who are in the country illegally.
She said the administration could alleviate some of the pressure on the ICE budget that Albence complained of if it focused only on detaining people who pose a serious risk, while turning to alternatives to detention for others.
“Detention is a very expensive option that should be reserved for cases where public safety or flight risk is a valid concern,” Roybal-Allard said.
But Albence said if ICE were to focus only on people who committed serious crimes, it would effectively render the existing immigration system pointless.
“If we do nothing else besides working on criminal aliens, we have in effect said there is no longer to be a consequence for anybody coming in this country illegally,” Albence said. “Even if you go through the entire immigration court process, which Congress spends hundreds of millions of dollars on between ICE and [the Department of Justice], that order issued by an immigration judge is not worth the paper it’s written on. Why do we even have the process?”