WASHINGTON (CN) — At a hearing where the chief of U.S. Border Patrol defended the need for military involvement in addressing the immigration crisis, members of Congress pushed back Thursday on that partnership’s mounting costs and still unseen payoff.
Chief Carla Provost made the case this morning that the influx of families at the border has brought new challenges for her agency.
Customs and Border Protection is diverting more than half their resources to care for 17,000 individuals, including a growing majority of families, who are being held in immigration jails after entering the country.
Democrats denied, however, that humanitarian interests can be advanced by military aid, given the aggressive stance by President Donald Trump on immigration.
The hearing today of the Committee on Homeland Security follows an Instagram live stream Monday where Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described the immigration jails at the southern border as concentration camps.
Under the current administration, 24 people have died in ICE detention centers and five children have died in the custody of other agencies, but Provost said she found the comparison offensive.
“My men and women, as well as the men and women in ICE, are doing the best that they can with the limited resources that they have,” Provost said. “I am calling on agents who are bringing toys in for the children and buying them with their personal money.”
Representative Al Green of Texas recalled a tweet from the president in March where he said that the U.S. has the weakest immigration laws in the world — and Mexico the strongest.
Demanding to know what are the red lines for active-duty personnel involvement in border operations, Green said the president used a convenient fabrication to justify sending military assets to the border.
“If you think our border is the weakest in the world, please speak up,” Green said.
CBP and the Department of Defense has assured Congress that deployments do not directly engage with migrants in an enforcement role, but Democrats questioned the propriety of duties that troops have undertaken, among them engineering wire barriers and driving migrant transportation vehicles.
New Mexico Representative Xochitl Small, the only member of the committee representing a district on the southern border, emphasized that CBP should rely more on third-party contractors.
“Those would be helping in processing, transporting,” Small said. “We would be eager to see you expand as much as possible.”
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., requested that Provost provide more information on CBP’s efforts to expand contracts for services rather than turning to the military for support.
Provost said her agency is working to boost staffing but the process of hiring federal agents, while expedited to meet rising demand, is still too slow.
She urged Congress to provide increased funds to CPB and Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would boost the agencies’ capacity to process the increasing number of families crossing.
“My facilities were never built to house these demographics,” Provost said. “They were built in the ’80s and ’90s, mainly focused on housing single adults.”
Republicans at the hearing saw shrewdness meanwhile in why more immigrants are turning up the border today with their children, saying that they think it will improve their chances of getting asylum.
Representative John Joyce echoed an accusation levied across the aisle by many of his Republican colleagues that the Democrats have failed to vote for legislation that would stop the flow of migrants by tightening the laws on asylum seekers.
Provost shared in their frustration.
“If we do not have some kind of consequence for violating the law and illegally crossing our borders, then I don’t know what I’m here for, in all honesty,” she said
The House Homeland Security Committee convened the hearing this morning on the heels of a tweet Monday by President Donald Trump about his plans to deport “millions of illegal aliens” beginning next week.