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DHS chief cites "system-wide meltdown" over migration at border

"Catch and release" reintroduced at border?

Over a month after President Trump declared a national emergency to build a border wall after Congress refused to provide sufficient funding, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote a letter to members of the House and Senate with an "urgent request" for assistance in stemming what she described as a tide of migrants overwhelming the border. Nielsen wrote that the agency faces a "system-wide meltdown."

"DHS facilities are overflowing, agents and officers are stretched too thin, and the magnitude of arriving and detained aliens has increased the risk of life-threatening incidents," Nielsen wrote, citing increased numbers of migrants arriving per month in large groups.

Nielsen wrote that her "greatest concern was for the children," as Customs and Border Protection currently has over 1,200 unaccompanied children in custody. The Trump administration has been widely criticized for earlier policies towards migrant children, such as separating families and keeping minors in poorly equipped detention facilities.

Nielsen also asked for more detention facilities in her letter, a point of disagreement which nearly led to a second shutdown this year. Democrats have reasoned that capping Immigration and Customs Enforcement's detention beds would force the administration to narrow its ramped-up deportation efforts.

Nielsen said that the Department of Health and Human Services would require more emergency resources such as medical and legal assistance to handle the influx of children. She also asked that Congress grant more authority to DHS to return unaccompanied migrant children from Central America to their countries, saying that putting these minors in the custody of sponsors in the U.S. becomes a "pull" factor for more migrants to make the trip north.

"Let me be clear: the journey of any migrant -- especially at the hands of a smuggler or trafficker -- is not a safe one," Nielsen wrote. "We must be able to come together on a bipartisan basis to take action."

In a statement, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said that Nielsen "continues to confuse and mislead on the situation at the border."

"The Administration has no credibility to demand Congress act when it has acted in bad faith on this issue since day one. I will support resources to ensure those presenting themselves at our borders are treated humanely but will oppose any effort to change policy to allow Secretary Nielsen to deport children and families without offering them due process," Thompson continued. "Democrats will not allow President Trump or his Administration to continue to further his anti-immigrant, xenophobic agenda."

Mr. Trump has intermittently threatened to cut aid to countries which do not do enough to stop the flow of migrants, or close the border between the U.S. and Mexico. He expressed his frustrations via Twitter on Friday. 

"If Mexico doesn't immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States through our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING.....the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week," the president tweeted from Florida. "This would be so easy for Mexico to do, but they just take our money and "talk." Besides, we lose so much money with them, especially when you add in drug trafficking etc.), that the Border closing would be a good thing!"

Mr. Trump allowed for a 35-day government shutdown in December and January in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain more funds from Congress to build the border wall. Democrats in Congress have continued to express disinterest in working with the president on his immigration priorities, arguing that the treatment of migrant children by the administration is cruel and that the border wall would be a racist expression of isolationism.

Mr. Trump signed his first veto last week to overrule a resolution by Congress which would have overturned his emergency declaration.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez contributed to this report