Rep. Roybal-Allard Statement at DHS Sec. Nielsen Hearing on Departmental Budget Request
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), the Ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s subcommittee hearing on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security budget request for Fiscal Year 2019. The hearing’s witness was Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Good morning, Madam Secretary. Welcome to your first appearance before the subcommittee.
While still relatively new, the department has made significant progress in improving its operations and performance, which is something DHS personnel – all 240,000 of them – can be proud of.
While there is broad bipartisan support for the department’s mission of protecting the homeland, there are differences of opinion on some of the policies the department follows to achieve that mission.
I wish that today we were convening under better circumstances. This would allow us to focus more on the positive things the department is doing, including significant improvements over the last decade to our border security.
It would help if our country’s immigration debate was on a more constructive footing – one based on facts, our American values, and compromise that could lead to a comprehensive resolution to the immigration challenges we all face together.
Unfortunately, the path to a compromise solution by this Congress, and between the Congress and the President, seems steeper every day.
This not only makes your job more difficult, it also causes confusion, fear, and uncertainty within our American immigrant communities, among our educators, our business sector, and our non-profit and social service organizations.
Many have come to Washington to express their concerns and to highlight the valuable contributions immigrants are making to our national economy and American society as a whole.
Unfortunately, these contributions, and the dire circumstances that caused individuals to cross our border illegally or appear at a port of entry without admissibility documentation, are too often ignored, and immigrants are broadly characterized as criminals or opportunists trying to take advantage of our American generosity.
Regrettably, the administration’s rhetoric and aggressive interior enforcement contributes to that perception and is wrongfully demonizing the immigrant community, tearing families apart and upending the lives of millions of people.
Madam Secretary, you have the authority to help alleviate some of this fear and confusion by using your discretion under the law to prioritize how the department enforces immigration laws and carries out policies.
The vast majority of immigrants are good, hardworking members of our communities with no criminal records.
Many have lived among us for years or decades, raising their family, paying taxes, and contributing to our communities. Some came to escape violence others to seek a better life for themselves and their family.
The fact that they arrived without permission — most out of fear or desperation — does not mean we should systematically ignore their plight and contributions to our communities, and automatically return them to the circumstances that brought them here in the first place. And we most certainly can treat them and their family humanely, with respect, understanding, and compassion.
Another responsibility of USCIS is to conduct credible fear interviews of individuals arriving at our borders seeking asylum.
Under our laws, as well as under our international agreements, we have committed not to return someone to a country where their life or liberty would be threatened.
While not everyone who applies for asylum will receive it, we have an obligation to make sure every asylum seeker gets the opportunity for their case to be heard.
And while we do not have the capacity to help every deserving refugee, we can help more than we do now and we can treat them all humanely and compassionately.
In closing, Madam Secretary, let me be perfectly clear. My Democratic colleagues and I fully support securing our borders. And we understand the need and the importance of enforcing our immigration laws.
Our objective is to ensure we accomplish those goals in a just and humane way, reflective of our American values and moral standing in the world.
I look forward to working with you towards those goals.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.