Rep. Lauren Underwood (D., Ill.) on Wednesday accused Kevin McAleenan, the acting Homeland Security secretary, of intentionally killing migrant children during a congressional hearing.
Underwood, a freshman Democrat who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, criticized McAleenan on his immigration policies during testimony about his department’s budget request.
"We've deployed the funding from FY19 that Congress has authorized. We've increased our temporary facilities by 500 beds in Donna, by 500 in El Paso. We’ve got three additional soft-sided facilities coming online in June. We’ve deployed medical practitioners. We now have over 100 certified medical practitioners in our two busiest sectors. We’ve asked for more money to extend that," McAleenan said.
Underwood interrupted and said, "People keep dying."
"This is obviously more than a question of resources. Congress has been more than willing to provide the resources and work with you to address the security and humanitarian concerns, but at this point, with five kids that have died, 5,000 separated from their families, I feel like — and the evidence is really clear — that this is intentional," Underwood said. "It’s a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration and it’s cruel and inhumane."
"That's an appalling accusation, and our men and women fight hard to protect people in our custody every single day," McAleenan responded. "We've asked for these resources three weeks ago — it hasn't been responded to by Congress — and we've asked for changes in authorities for the last three years that would’ve prevented this from happening."
NBC reported on Wednesday that an unreported sixth migrant child died in custody last September. The Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber told the Associated Press the girl died of fever and respiratory distress at a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.
Following the exchange, Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), the ranking member on the committee, called for a vote to strike Underwood’s comments from the official record, prompting Underwood to clarify her original comment.
"You cannot impugn the character of the witness by stating that he intentionally murders children. That is completely inappropriate and her words should be taken down," Rogers explained. "She was very explicit."
Underwood responded, "I did not say it was murder" before clarifying that she believed the Trump administration’s immigration policies caused preventable deaths.
Ten Democrats were not present at the hearing, so the seven Democrats who voted against the motion to strike were outnumbered by the nine Republicans who voted to strike Underwood's comments.