A top U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official patiently explained to “confused” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) during a Senate hearing Tuesday that illegal immigrants do, in fact, break U.S. laws when they enter the country illegally.
“Would you send your child to the [family detention centers]?” Hirono (pictured left above) asked ICE’s Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Matthew T. Albence during a hearing with the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Albence told Hirono, “Again, I think we’re missing the point. These individuals are there because they have broken a law.”
But Hirono interrupted, insisting that the illegal immigrants being held in the detention centers “have broken a law only as deemed so by” President Donald Trump.
But Albence took issue with Hirono’s claim that illegal immigrants “have broken a law only” because Trump said so.
“No ma’am — they are there for violation of Title VIII of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, OK?” Albence said. “That’s illegal entry; it’s both a criminal and civil violation. They are in those [detention centers] pending the outcome of that civil immigration process. They have broken the law.”
Hirono, however, was confused.
“My understanding is that under zero tolerance these are no longer civil proceedings, but in fact are criminal proceedings. Is that so?” Hirono asked.
Albence explained, “They were criminal proceedings when the Border Patrol prosecuted them. But at the conclusion of that process — once the individual came into ICE custody — they would go through administrative proceedings.”
After an awkward silence, Hirono finally admitted, “I’m confused.”
The Trump administration’s since-scrapped zero tolerance policy, which separated illegal immigrant children from their parents at the border, drew bipartisan backlash over the past several weeks.
Officials said Thursday that they had reunited all eligible children — a total of 1,442 — with their parents following a court order to do so. But more than 700 illegal immigrant children not “eligible” for reunification remained in federal custody at the time.
Despite bipartisan opposition, Trump remains strongly committed to fulfilling his immigration enforcement campaign promises, including securing funding for his signature border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The president even threatened to shut down the government in September if Congress refuses to include border wall funding in its September spending package.
“My administration is working hard to pass border security legislation, improve vetting and establish a merit-based immigration system, which the United States needs very, very importantly, very badly,” Trump said during a joint press conference Monday with the visiting Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.
“As far as the border is concerned, and personally — if we don’t get border security after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown,” Trump continued. “I would certainly be willing to close it down to get it done.”