Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Friday that the majority of migrants traveling to the U.S. are victims of violence.
Nielsen’s remarks stood out compared to comments from President Trump, who in recent days has cast migrant caravans as representing a security threat.
Speaking at a Council of Foreign Relations event, the Homeland Security secretary noted that the journey to the U.S. is “tremendously difficult and dangerous.”
“We have about 30 percent of women who take that journey are sexually abused, 17 percent of men,” she said. “Seventy percent of the migrants are victims of violence.”
Still, Nielsen acknowledged that individuals posing a danger to the U.S. are in the caravan of Central American asylum seekers inching toward the distant U.S. border.
DHS published a fact sheet Thursday labeling the caravan as a “unique safety threat” and stating that a “number of violent criminals” are along the caravan route.
The secretary also said Friday that she has asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to help make it possible for other countries to be able to accept the migrants as asylum seekers.
“Let’s expand the asylum capacity through the region so we can help them as soon as possible on that journey, so they’re not forced to make decisions like using a smuggler, using a trafficker, sending kids alone to the border,” Nielsen said.
Trump, who has made immigration a huge part of his closing message for the midterm campaign, said Thursday that he is “finalizing a plan” to reject asylum claims from those who enter the country illegally and that asylum applications would only be accepted at ports of entry.
The president’s comments were directed toward the migrant caravan currently traveling toward the U.S. from Central America.
Trump has called the caravan an “invasion” and has sent 5,200 military personnel to the border, even as the group has fallen in size as it makes its way through Mexico.
On Thursday, the president claimed that soldiers sent to the border could fire upon the caravan if they felt it necessary, saying that “anybody throwing stones, rocks like they did to Mexico. … We will consider that a firearm, because there’s not much difference.”
When asked about the use of troops at the border, Nielsen said her department didn’t have the “capacity and capability to address that type of flow” by itself and has asked the Department of Defense for assistance.
She said that part of the military’s use at the border is for engineering and other technical aspects, as well as to “help make sure we can defend our ports of entry.”
“What we’ve seen particularly in the second or third phase, that unfortunately did turn quite violent,” Nielsen said. “But by the time we’re talking about molotov cocktails and use of firearms, it’s my duty to make sure our officers and agents are secure.”
Mexico’s Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete said Sunday that some of the migrants were armed with guns and others had Molotov cocktails, according to Reuters.