Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen begged foreign asylum-seekers to “please come to the ports of entry” on the U.S.-Mexico border during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.
Nielsen pleaded with asylum-seekers to enter the U.S. by using the ports of entry to legally come and claim asylum, despite President Trump’s concerns over the nation’s weak and often abused asylum laws.
Nielsen told asylum-seekers during the hearing:
NIELSEN: If you are fleeing and you have a need to come to the United States, please come to the ports of entry. You — you — you know, we will process your claim there. But if you come across the border illegally, you’ve — you’ve broken the law and we have to prosecute. It’s the only way to keep our border — to have a border.
So if you have a claim, you have children, you’re concerned for your life, go to a port of entry. You’ll be processed. We have asylum laws. But when you break the law, that’s where it gets very difficult because we have to prosecute those who break the law.
Nielsen also said DHS was broadcasting a campaign in Central America to tell asylum-seekers that they are able to use the ports of entry in the U.S. to claim asylum. Nielsen said:
SEN. SHAHEEN: Are we messaging that to the Central American countries where many of these refugees are coming from?
NIELSEN: We — we are. We have a youth outreach program, we’re doing an internship with the Department of State, we also are working with local radio stations as well with the Department of State to try to message this. Certainly the embassies are messaging this. But again, if you have a legitimate claim and you come to a port of entry, you haven’t broken the law. [Emphasis added]
SEN. SHAHEEN: Right, that’s why I’m asking…
SEN. SHAHEEN: …but are we messaging that piece of it?
NIELSEN: Yes. We need to do more and more, but yes, that is a campaign that we are — we are in the midst of executing, yes. [Emphasis added]
Nielsen made the comments after a caravan of Central Americans swarmed the ports of entry and southern border to seek asylum and cross illegally into the U.S. Foreign nationals seeking asylum are often released into the interior of the country while they await their asylum hearings in a practice known as “Catch and Release,” which is still ongoing, even under the Trump administration.
Nielsen did mention in her testimony that asylum-seekers should seek refuge in Mexico and that the U.S. needs an agreement with Mexico whereby asylum-seekers can be turned back to Mexico if they travel through the country to seek asylum in the U.S.
As Breitbart News reported, Center for Immigration Studies Director of Policy Jessica Vaughan described Nielsen’s comments telling foreign nationals to use the ports of entry as a “colossal mistake.”
In contrast, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has worked to close up the “Catch and Release” program, since the Republican-controlled Congress has not yet officially ended the effort.