The Department of Homeland Security canceled a trip to the southern border in Texas for its advisory council because of the government shutdown, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Members of the advisory council were supposed to spend several days last week visiting holding centers and detention facilities with a focus on gathering information on the treatment of children and families in custody, those same sources said. The council had embarked on a similar trip in early December. The January visits were supposed to help the team draft recommendations for DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
But members of the council were told that they could not “conduct business” because of the shutdown. Now, their report on how the department can better accommodate the overflow of children at the border is on hold.
The canceling of the council’s visit underscores how the government shutdown has only worsened the situation on the border—a situation that the Trump administration has used as a rationale for demanding a border wall as part of any government funding agreement.
The president has spent weeks, if not months, arguing that a wall is needed to combat a growing national security threat and humanitarian crisis at the border, all while the Department of Homeland Security is battling a public relations fiasco after several children died in its custody. But the practical work the administration is doing is now on hold as Congress and the president debate whether $5.6 billion should be appropriated for the wall.
In general, the DHS advisory council has the job of providing “the Secretary real-time, real-world, sensing and independent advice to support decision-making across the spectrum of homeland security operations,” according to the department’s website.
But now members of the council are unable to even hold conference calls with the secretary, or with each other, because of the shutdown.
“I really don’t get why this is the case,” one member of the council told The Daily Beast. “It’s not like those calls are costing the government any money. Now everything is stalled and we can’t give advice on how to handle everything that’s going on.”
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The news of the stalled advisory council efforts comes as President Trump is set to make a primetime television address in which he is expected to talk about the possibility of issuing a national emergency to build the border wall. It also comes at a time when the advisory council is supposed to be producing a crucial report with recommendations for Nielsen about how her department can better handle the backlog of asylum claims and the movement of migrants between holding centers and detention facilities.
But members of the advisory council told The Daily Beast that additional resources for DHS would be more effective.
One individual from the council said he traveled with several members to the border in California and Arizona to visit six different sites in December. The most alarming part of the trip, the source said, was the sheer number of people living in holding centers—the facilities that serve as the first stopping point for those who enter the U.S. from the southern border.
Border patrol agents are supposed to transfer individuals from those stations to official detention centers within 24 hours, the source said, but are holding them for “far longer.”
“There are bottlenecks along the way, too,” the advisory council member said. “The way the laws and regulations are set up, one part of Border Patrol can’t turn people over to ICE who can’t turn it over to the next team of people. They just don’t have the resources.”
The source said he spoke with people who crossed the border, including women and children, who had broken bones and wounds.
“Some of them I think had tried to scale the wall and jumped to the ground,” the source said, adding that the detention centers were overcrowded and did not offer a separate space for those suffering from various illnesses.