Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings Weighs In On Acting DHS Secretary's Testimony Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday. NPR's Ailsa Chang talks with the committee's chair, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
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Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings Weighs In On Acting DHS Secretary's Testimony

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Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings Weighs In On Acting DHS Secretary's Testimony

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings Weighs In On Acting DHS Secretary's Testimony

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings Weighs In On Acting DHS Secretary's Testimony

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Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday. NPR's Ailsa Chang talks with the committee's chair, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan spent the day testifying on Capitol Hill. He was answering questions from the House Oversight Committee. Republicans blamed the Democrats for not providing enough money at the border while Democrats pointed at Republicans for neglecting the children who've been detained. McAleenan refuted those claims, inviting the committee's chairman to come see for himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCALEENAN: I would welcome the opportunity to travel with you to the border and to see our men and women and how hard they are working to care for children - Border Patrol agents holding children that were not their own, brought across by smugglers, putting formula and baby bottles together. There is no one defecating in a Mylar blanket.

CHANG: Chairman Elijah Cummings, Democrat from Maryland, joins us now.

Welcome, Congressman.

ELIJAH CUMMINGS: It's my honor to be with you.

CHANG: So you told the secretary today that it appeared to you his department seemed to keep better track of the personal items, say, like, keys that are being brought across the border than of the children who are crossing the border. Were you satisfied with the way he responded to your observation today?

CUMMINGS: No, I was not. The chaotic scene at the border is a direct result of this administration's callous disregard for migrants seeking asylum in the country and its inhumane family separation policy. And he, our guest, was the - one of the architects of that policy. We're spending now, based upon reports we got last week, anywhere from $350 per day to $725 per day for each of these folks, the children. And when we see what we are getting for that, it just seems that there is either - somebody is not operating properly and efficiently and effectively, and we need - may need new leadership, or there - and clearly there is something wrong because he came in saying that he had seen one thing, but we had witnesses and, by the way, the inspector general's offices...

CHANG: Right...

CUMMINGS: ...Of DHS...

CHANG: ...Contradicting these observations.

CUMMINGS: ...And HHS contradicting...

CHANG: Right. Now...

CUMMINGS: ...And independent agencies.

CHANG: Now, you have said that there is an empathy deficit at the head of DHS. But let me ask you this. Why can't you have empathy for these migrants yet still believe the U.S. cannot accommodate all these migrants crossing the border?

CUMMINGS: I have - well, first of all, there are two issues here. I do believe that we need to have comprehensive immigration policy. As you noted a little while back, the Senate created, I thought, a reasonable bill. And the House failed to take it up when they were controlled by Republicans.

CHANG: Right.

CUMMINGS: But at the same time, they are here. These are people. These are human beings. And to be treated in a way as if they were less than human, I think, is not American. It does not reflect our values. I know it doesn't reflect mine and probably that of most Americans. And so I - and when I said they didn't have - there was an empathy deficit, what I was trying to say was when the secretary was a part of creating the zero tolerance policy and separating parents from children, I saw that, and then when I hear the testimony about children walking around in dirty diapers and not being able to shower and things of that nature...

CHANG: Well...

CUMMINGS: It concerns me.

CHANG: If there is a way to improve these conditions and...

CUMMINGS: Yes.

CHANG: ...To not separate families but the challenge...

CUMMINGS: Yes.

CHANG: ...Of migrants coming to the border does not go away - if you were the one in charge, how should the country handle this volume of migrants in - very briefly in the 30 seconds we have left.

CUMMINGS: Yeah, well, that's - we - I'd stop the unnecessary detention of children and other immigrants. We need to ensure people check in court hearings and provide those who must be detained with access to health care, legal representation and other important resources. And we need to reinstitute aid to Central American countries from where...

CHANG: OK.

CUMMINGS: ...These folks are coming from.

CHANG: All right, that's Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

Thank you very much.

CUMMINGS: I enjoyed it.

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