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Without Notifying Anyone, ICE Dumps Hundreds of Migrants at El Paso Bus Station Around Christmas

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: Congressmember Johnson went on to ask Nielsen, "Do you view those you call 'illegal aliens' to be human or subhuman?" So, Dylan, could you respond to what Kirstjen Nielsen said -- and what she didn't say?

DYLAN CORBETT: Yeah. You know, that's absolutely unacceptable that the Department of Homeland -- that the secretary for the Department of Homeland Security doesn't know how many children have died in her custody. But that's a piece with the lack of transparency. That's a piece with the lack of accountability in these institutions. ICE and CBP are rife with a lack of accountability and transparency.

Something else that's very troubling that has to do with the death of Jakelin Caal, CBP, under federal law, is obliged to inform Congress within 24 hours if a child dies in their custody. Commissioner McAleenan of the CBP did not do that. He did not inform Congress until several days later, effectively breaking the law. If CBP, if DHS -- cannot guarantee the safety and security of the families and the children in their custody, if they're not going to be accountable to Congress, at this point, I don't see how the CBP commissioner or how the DHS secretary can't be called on to resign at this point.

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dylan, can you explain what -- just clarify: Have children ever died in ICE custody before, during the Obama administration?

DYLAN CORBETT: This is something that's new. Folks, adults -- yes, adults have died while in custody, but this is something new, and this is something that's troubling. CBP effectively is not able to guarantee their health or security. The conditions in which they're in, the cells in which they're in are not meant to house families. There is a -- it's true that what we've seen -- although when you look at the past 30, 40 years, we're at a relative low in terms of border crossings, it's true that what's happened lately, as of late, is that there are a number -- the number of families crossing the border has spiked. Last month, November, 60 percent of all border apprehensions were families.

But what the government's response has been in the Trump administration and what the government's response has been over the last several decades -- this is bipartisan, this is on both the presidents and the Congress -- has been: respond to the problem of immigration at the border by criminalizing migrants and by militarizing the border. So, it was to be expected, when your only response is to criminalize people, when your only response is to deploy racism, when your only response is to militarize, that you can't respond to a humanitarian situation like we have right now. CBP, despite their incredible budgets, despite the incredible resources that they have, despite 18,000 Border Patrol agents here at the border, we are unable to respond to what is actually happening at the border, because we're treating migrants as criminals and threats to our country, which they're not. These are families seeking refuge, safety and security. And they're being driven by forced migration, a lot of which the United States is complicit in.

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AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Democratic Congressmember Luis Gutie'rrez of Illinois. He addressed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at that December 20th hearing.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Specifically in the area of homeland security, lying has become elevated to a new and astounding level of mendacity. President Trump descended the golden escalators at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy by saying Mexico was sending us the worst, rapists, murderers. Then he said he was required to break up migrant families because of bad laws that the Democrats gave us. How about the one about Mexico paying for the wall? You want $5 million, and you want $5 billion, and you want the American public to pay for it. Isn't Mexico supposed to pay for it? Wasn't that the campaign promise? No, that's just another lie. ...

But I have to say, the all-time record for lying, in the face of all the evidence, was a tweet you, Madam Secretary, sent out on June the 17th. And it says, "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period." That's your Twitter account. That's what you put out. Yet you came here today to tell us exactly is your policy of separating families and children from their families. Another lie.

I know I have 45 seconds. I won't take them all. But it is repugnant to me and astonishing to me that during Christmas -- I like to call them the holiday seasons, to be inclusive, but during Christmas, because the majority always wants to just call it Christmas -- that during Christmas, a time in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a Jesus Christ who had to flee for his life with Mary and Joseph, thank God there wasn't a wall that stopped him from seeking refuge in Egypt!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Congressmember Luis Gutie'rrez, after which he walked out of the hearing with the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen. As congressmember after congressmember demanded to know how many people had died in border custody, she refused to answer. Afterwards, they did release a number. They said, in the last year, from October 1st, 2017, to September 30th, 2018, six adults have died, and since October 1st, two children have died.

So, Dylan Corbett, is it true that what's happening right now is that migrants are being picked up -- immigrants are being picked up with such speed, to be deported, and they need those ICE detention centers to put them in on their way to deportation, that the children and other immigrants, who are not supposed to be in BPS custody for [CBP] custody for more than 72 hours, are being held much longer and, as you said, in much more primitive conditions?

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DYLAN CORBETT: Yeah, that's true. And what we're seeing -- you know, you mentioned at the top of the program that we were in the midst of a government shutdown. This is a government shutdown that has been instigated by President Trump over precisely border funding, funding for the border wall, increased militarization of the border. What we've seen over 2018 was zero tolerance, with placing agents -- there are currently agents here on the bridges in El Paso, Texas, preventing people from lawfully accessing asylum, pushing them away and forcing them to go to more remote and dangerous parts of the border, where they have to cross illegally and in more precarious conditions. That's exactly what happened to Jakelin Caal. Jakelin Caal and her father were not -- would not have been allowed to present at the bridge and ask for asylum. They were forced to go into more remote parts of the border. That is something that directly contributed to her death.

We've also seen -- as you said, you know, we heard about family separation. This year over 2,000 children were separated from their families. Family separation continues. There was the gentleman and his -- a migrant father and his child, who I saw just a couple days ago, who was kicked off the bus by ICE, who has been separated from his spouse. Family separation continues to happen. We have the reality of Tornillo, the detention camp just miles outside of El Paso.

This border -- this politicization of the border, these border politics, shutting down the government in order to get your way on militarizing the border, what we're seeing is all these different tactics, all these different policies and practices, by CBP, by ICE, by the Department of Homeland Security, stemming from decisions that are being taken in the White House, are now having deadly consequences. People have to wake up to the fact that this is not -- we do not need a militarized response here on the border. We need to demilitarize. We need to defund. And we need to treat people with dignity and respect, recognizing that we are responsible for their forced migration, out of countries like Guatemala, where Jakelin and Felipe come from.

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