There is a humanitarian and security crisis at our southwest border. It is getting worse, and a “status quo” response from Congress — inadequate authorities, insufficient funds and indifference to the chaos — will not cut it. We need to step up and act decisively. Every day we wait leaves this country more exposed and puts vulnerable populations of families and children on the border more at risk.
My department has a fundamental responsibility: to know who and what is coming into the country. But at our southern border, we can’t provide those assurances because we don’t have full operational control. What we do know is that the smuggling of deadly drugs such as fentanyl — which kills thousands every year — is on the rise.
We know that the large number of criminals includes thousands of convicted offenders and nearly 800 gang members caught trying to get across the southern border last year alone. And we know that other potentially nefarious actors are trying to cross illegally. Last year, DHS encountered more than 3,000 “special interest aliens” — individuals with suspicious travel patterns who may pose a national security risk, or people from countries with ties to terrorism — at our southern border.
We are also facing a humanitarian catastrophe. For the first time, families and children make up the majority of those entering illegally. Why? Because word has gotten out that our broken legal framework will give them a “free pass” into the United States. This has dramatically changed the migrant flows, and it is a crisis because our system wasn’t built to handle it.
The trek has become a nightmare, with more than 30 percent of women reporting sexual assault along the way and 70 percent of all migrants reporting violence. Aliens, including children, are coming into our custody sicker than ever. Border Patrol refers an average of 50 cases a day to medical providers.
The situation cannot be ignored. Despite the facts provided by front-line DHS professionals, some public figures and commentators claim that there is no crisis, or that it is “manufactured.” There is nothing manufactured about children arriving at our borders dehydrated and sick, migrants being abused on a lawless pathway, deadly drugs coming across in droves, or criminals evading our defenses. Facts are stubborn things and tell a completely different story. The situation is serious. We hope Congress will get serious, too.
Kirstjen Nielsen is the secretary of Homeland Security.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DHS secretary: We face a humanitarian and security crisis