DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan shot down false claims from Democratic lawmakers and journalists about family separations on the border during a Thursday interview on Fox News.
Responding to hysterical claims and accusations from Democrat Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski about separating families, McAleenan said: "First of all, that is not happening. We are separating children in maybe one case a day out of the 3,000 families arriving."
"It's very rare. It’s for the safety of the child, first and foremost," McAleenan continued. "It’s a prosecution for a serious criminal offense, it’s a threat to the child, it’s communicable disease, or it’s someone who’s presenting a family relationship that doesn't exist. That’s when that happens."
Ingraham later asked McAleenan: "If you could get one thing, just one thing tonight, what would it be to solve this problem?"
"I would change the law on the families so we could keep them in custody," McAleenan responded. "That’s 70 percent now of the crossings, the last several days. We need to address that."
Full transcript of the interview provided via Fox News:
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Here exclusively, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here.
What is going on here? The accusations over the last two days that you have to endure this, that you are intentionally keeping kids in this precarious situation. We have some children who’ve died in custody.
KEVIN MCALEENAN, ACTING DHS SECRETARY: It’s a sad state of affairs in our politics when we’ve got an actual crisis, we’ve got solutions on the table, we’ve got clarity on what our men and women on the border need, what the support from Congress, and yet, that’s the kind of thing we are hearing.
INGRAHAM: You needed X number of beds and facilities to house what you predicted months ago, and we covered this.
INGRAHAM: You predicted that if we didn't get the money to house these people, we would have kids on the floors and mats and whatever you can provide that border patrol facilities or in tents outside.
INGRAHAM: Did you get the beds?
MCALEENAN: No. No, this administration --
INGRAHAM: This is unbelievable.
MCALEENAN: This administration has put solutions on the table over the last three weeks, both to manage a crisis with beds. These are beds for children who are coming unaccompanied. It’s our statutory responsibility. It’s our human responsibility to take care of them. We asked for that funding.
We’ve also put a solution that would end the crisis to begin with. Allow us to detain families together through legal immigration proceedings.
INGRAHAM: So, keep them at the -- just so people understand, crossing the border --
INGRAHAM: -- as I saw many family units crossing --
MCALEENAN: We’re there.
INGRAHAM: Crossing the border, they would not be processed and released under your plan.
INGRAHAM: They would be processed and they would be adjudicated at the border, correct?
MCALEENAN: They would see a judge. They would get a fair hearing. If they had an asylum claim and only about 10 percent do, they would be allowed to stay. But the rest would be repatriated swiftly, and this flow would drop immediately.
INGRAHAM: It would drop overnight, would it not?
MCALEENAN: It happened in 2014. We did the same thing then.
INGRAHAM: Well, right now, we have recrimination and politics.
INGRAHAM: So, it is finger-pointing with the most heinous accusations being leveled at you. If you could get one thing, just one thing tonight, what would it be to solve this problem?
MCALEENAN: Just one thing tonight?
MCALEENAN: I would change the law on the families so we could keep them in custody. That’s 70 percent now of the crossings, the last several days. We need to address that.
INGRAHAM: How many do have in custody? Let’s just go to the unaccompanied minors.
INGRAHAM: That’s babies all the way until 18 years of age, correct? How many in your custody?
MCALEENAN: Yes, most are 13 to 17-year-old teenage boys.
MCALEENAN: Right? We’ve got almost 2,000 in custody right now. About 1,800 in custody.
INGRAHAM: Where are they living?
MCALEENAN: They’re staying in border patrol stations. These are police stations designed for adults.
INGRAHAM: How much does that cost? I mean, how -- I mean, I was there, they're not meant to hold people.
MCALEENAN: No, not at all. We are using a huge portion of our operating budget on a care and feeding. We’ve got border patrol agents, 40 percent of our agents, who are supposed to be out on the border protecting people, that you see them out in the field, they are doing care, custody, transportation, hospital watch for unaccompanied children.
INGRAHAM: We saw this. I mean, we saw people arriving, jumping in the water, getting pulled at the boat, falling out of the boat. We witnessed this.
INGRAHAM: And HHS is supposed to pick them up after how long?
MCALEENAN: It's supposed to be within the 72 hours, we transfer to HHS.
INGRAHAM: And do they have anywhere to put these people?
MCALEENAN: They don’t have any beds --
INGRAHAM: OK. So, there is nowhere to put the people.
INGRAHAM: Congress won’t allocate the money.
INGRAHAM: And then you are the bad guy?
Someone explained the situation to me. This is really ridiculous at this point.
MCALEENAN: It’s hard to explain.
INGRAHAM: So, right now, the president has decided, like look, he can’t work -- they are trying to impeach him. They’re claiming he is doing a cover-up.
INGRAHAM: So, things look like they are stalled. What is this going to mean as the hot summer months kick in? It’s already hot down there. It’s getting worse.
INGRAHAM: What do you expect to see?
MCALEENAN: Well, even though we provided solutions to Congress we will not wait for them to act. I’m going on Monday to Guatemala. I want to take this fight to the cartels that are smuggling children, starting at the Guatemala-Honduran border. We are bringing a HHSI agents, CBP officers, border patrol agents, to embed with the Guatemalan forces and try to interdict this flow at the beginning.
We are working with the government in Mexico in the same thing. Sharing intel on the people profiting from human misery, we can't allow that to go on anymore.
And then these steps we’re taking at the border, trying to get judges down there to adjudicate hearings more quickly, get people repatriated and change this dynamic.
INGRAHAM: What about the story about the plan to send people around the country? That was blowing up the Internet over the weekend.
INGRAHAM: There’s going to be 300,000 sent to Florida and some to California.
INGRAHAM: And people in Florida were messaging me going, what are they doing sending them here? Like nobody wants them, not my backyard, you know, scenario.
But what was that?
MCALEENAN: So, I understand Governor DeSantis’ concerned, you know, Senator Rubio. These communities don't need an influx of migrants, right? Everybody is overloaded across the country. What the numbers that you outlined at the open.
So, what we are doing is trying to manage that in the border environment first and foremost. We have stations that are full in South Texas, in El Paso, in Huma, Arizona. So, we are transforming and moving migrants from stations that are overloaded and moving them to San Diego, for instance, where we have more capacity, moving them to El Centro sector. That’s how we are trying to manage the capacity issue. But we’re not going to -- we have no plans to move migrants to states like Florida or to the northern border at this point.
INGRAHAM: Mr. Secretary, I also want to get your response to this disturbing headline today. Infectious diseases a rising threat among migrants at the southern border.
I saw a lot of people coughing, bad coughs when I was there.
INGRAHAM: A lot of children. I mean, again, the border patrol agents were donating their own children's clothes where I was and bringing in diapers and formula, buying it with their own money. It's like teachers buying school supplies here.
How big of a concern, though, is the health risk --
INGRAHAM: -- both to agents, to, obviously, the migrants themselves and then the communities that are absorbing these people?
MCALEENAN: It’s significant. I’ve been talking about it since December. We are seeing younger children arriving sicker every day. We had H1N1 outbreak yesterday, in McAllen station, that’s what the infectious disease that our teenager who passed away on Monday. It looks like he had the flu, a very virulent strain of the flu, H1N1.
We have seen measles. We’ve seen mumps. We have folks in ICE custody that are quarantined due to mumps.
It's a tremendous challenge. We’ve got a huge medical effort under way with contract support, with coast guard, with the public health service. But, really, this is overwhelming problem, and when smugglers are keeping people in close quarters in Mexico and stash houses for days on end, it just exacerbates.
INGRAHAM: They just -- 120 people in the back of a --
INGRAHAM: -- truck last week I think it was.
INGRAHAM: Ten days ago, whenever that was. I mean, that in and of itself is horrific.
MCALEENAN: It’s very dangerous. The temperature in that truck was 98 degrees.
INGRAHAM: We’ve got a lot of folks on television who are turning this into a hysterical issue as far as blame. This was on MSNBC today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST: This is our responsibility as a country and as a nation. And we are not being given answers as to what is happening to a small, young children, to teenagers, to girls, to boys who are being taken away from their families, from their parents and left alone in our custody. Ivanka, Jared, anybody, get to him!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
INGRAHAM: Your reaction?
MCALEENAN: Well, first of all, that’s not happening. We are separating children and may be one case a day out of the 3,000 families arriving. It's very rare. It’s for the safety of the child, first and foremost.
INGRAHAM: When it’s not the family member with the child, correct?
MCALEENAN: Right. It’s a prosecution for a serious criminal offense, it’s a threat to the child, it’s communicable disease, or it’s someone who’s presenting a family relationship that doesn't exist. That’s when that happens.
And the other thing on the health care, we are doing everything we can to take care of these children as they arrive. We’ve had over 150,000 kids enter our process in the last three and a half months, our border patrol agents are doing an amazing job to take care of them.
INGRAHAM: Do you think the new world that was I guess released today that sponsors of illegal immigrants I guess are going to have to guarantee.
INGRAHAM: They’re going to pay for their health care. They will pay for their, you know, other costs.
INGRAHAM: Which is a law right now, it’s a law, but it’s not being enforced.
INGRAHAM: Is that a good idea? With that perhaps bring down the illegal immigration?
MCALEENAN: I think a whole set of initiatives that we’re pursuing, along with the Department of Justice, to tighten our enforcement of laws that haven't been enforced effectively in the past to make it harder to be here unlawfully. I think those are important steps.
INGRAHAM: E-Verify, yes?
MCALEENAN: Absolutely, we support it. We’re ready to expand it.
INGRAHAM: Mr. Secretary, it’s going to be tough months. We’re going to get back down in the border. Thank you so much for being here.
MCALEENAN: Thank you for coming down and seeing our men and women.