US Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirsten Nielsen was questioned for three hours by members of Congress Wednesday (March 6) about the Trump administration policy that separated thousands of kids from their parents at the US’s southern border.
Both Democrats and Republicans seemed to agree that the US needs to treat the new influx of migrants, many of them women and children seeking asylum from Central America, more humanely. But none was as blunt, or as damning of Trump’s policies, as Al Green, the Democrat from Texas:
“We have surpassed our ‘color quota,'” he said. “There are those who believe that we already have too many people of color in this country, one of whom happens to be the president of the United States of America.”
Green, 47, a former Justice of the Peace who joined Congress in 2005, said Trump isn’t complying with the law; he’s trying to keep people of color out. To bolster his point, Green reminded Nielsen of all the other times the US has welcomed those looking for a better life, including the Europeans who came through Ellis island.
“Madam Secretary, what happened to give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to breathe free?” he began, reading from The New Colossus, the Emma Lazarus poem that is inscribed on the foot of the Statue of Liberty. “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
“What happened?” he said, slowly and deliberately. “Madam Secretary, asylees are not illegals.” Nielsen, and the dozens of reporters, Congress aides, and immigration officials in the audience were momentarily motionless.
Green’s reading was a dramatic piece of political theater, and he has been the loudest Congressional voice for Trump’s impeachment since the president fired former FBI director James Comey back in May of 2017. His comments dissected the inconsistencies in Trump immigration policy: it bucks US law by treating people seeking asylum like criminals, and affects people of color the most.
Trump and the DHS have shut down immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, created a virtual wall that limits legal immigration, and substantially reduced the number of asylum-seekers the US will take.
Trump officials have long argued that anyone who doesn’t come through a port of entry is “illegal,” and used that rationale to detain anyone in the US without documents. But US immigration laws are more complicated than that, particularly when it comes to seeking asylum. The US is a party to and one of the original authors of an international treaty on refugees that dates back to 1951, which gives anyone who thinks their life is at risk the right to seek shelter in a country they deem safe.
US law states that asylum seekers may apply at a port of entry or within the US, regardless of their immigration status. At the same time, both legal undocumented immigrants are guaranteed the same legal rights as US citizens on US soil.
“Madam secretary, do you know who Scarface is?” Green asked at one point. He was Al Capone, Green explained to the perplexed secretary, the “son of Italian immigrants. I don’t want MS-13 in our country, but I also don’t want to see a wall as a solution to a humanitarian crisis.”
Under Trump and Nielsen, the DHS has created “a policy that separates babies from their mothers, locks them up in cages…I saw it, I was at the border,” Green said.
“White babies would not be treated the way these babies of color are being treated,” Green concluded emphatically. “We’ve opened our doors for ‘your tired, your poor, your masses yearning to be free,’ except we now have our quota for our people of color.”
The hearing ended soon after. Afterwards, Green walked directly up to Nielsen, shook her hand and and spoke intently at her for a moment, then walked out the door.