Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Hispanic lawmakers Wednesday that she doesn’t know of any illegal immigrant children separated from parents who died while in government custody.
But that did little to quell the anger among the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which emerged from a meeting with Ms. Nielsen to say they lacked confidence in her ability to oversee the reunification efforts.
“The questions seemed to be over her head,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who attended the meeting.
The lawmakers specifically doubted Ms. Nielsen’s ability to meet a court-imposed Thursday deadline for reuniting hundreds of children separated from parents during the chaos of the zero-tolerance border policy in May and June.
The government says it’s on track to reconnect more than 1,600 parents with their children by the deadline, though hundreds of tough cases, including some parents who may have been deported before they got a chance to reunify, are still lurking.
Democrats, and Hispanic lawmakers in particular, have been ferocious in their criticism of Ms. Nielsen.
Some have called for her to resign.
Part of the heat stems from completely different impressions of what’s going on at the border and within the immigration detention facilities.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat, said he asked Ms. Nielsen in the meeting whether any child has died or been seriously injured in government custody.
“Not to my knowledge,” she replied, according to the congressman.
Democrats were skeptical, citing press reports they said convinced them children are being harmed.
“We are increasingly seeing serious issues such as deaths for folks who have been in custody,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, chairman of the Hispanic Caucus.
Ms. Nielsen, for her part, told reporters Wednesday’s meeting was “very productive, very frank.”
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