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Department of Homeland Security secretary discusses border security, wall during RGV visit

In her first week in office, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen visited the Rio Grande Valley Wednesday, discussing border security and the latest developments concerning a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In her first week in office, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen visited the Rio Grande Valley Wednesday, discussing border security and the latest developments concerning a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nielsen, who was sworn in as the new DHS secretary on Dec. 6, saw air, marine and field operations during her visit, noting that while there are great efforts along the southern border, there is still work to be done based off of the statistics.

Nielsen says a single immigration case takes nearly two years, all while the undocumented immigrant remains in the United States. During that time, they often disappear into communities, never seeing a judge.

To help, Neilsen says DHS plans to hire 1,000 ICE attorneys, 370 immigration judges and 10,000 new ICE officers.

While illegal crossings are down by 30 percent, Nielsen says there are other issues to address, like the 68 percent increase in Border Patrol agent assaults, the explosion in asylum claims and the alarming increase in unaccompanied minors and family units entering the United States.

"We are finding various ways to deter that. It's a tremendously dangerous journey to get here through smugglers, traffickers, coyotes,” said Neilsen. “It’s both a humanitarian issue and security and we are looking to bring those numbers back down."

Following one of President Trump's most notable campaign promises, DHS says they are considering a building a border wall in the Rio Grande Valley, starting at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge Center, once funding is complete.

"Thirty-five gates have been funded already," said Rio Grande Valley Sector Border Patrol Chief Manuel Padilla. "The money is allocated to cover the gaps that we have. Currently, the planning is 600 miles of border wall fence combination, 28 of those miles will be in Hidalgo County, 32 miles of those will be in Starr County. Those are in the planning phase, not funding yet."

Nielsen says the administration's 2018 fiscal year budget allots $1.6 billion for a new border wall system. The agency faces several obstacles before building a border wall, Nielsen says, including assessing environmental effects and partnerships with landowners, state and local authorities.

When asked, neither Padilla or Neilsen could give an exact time frame on when construction on a border wall would start in the Valley.

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