Homeland Security Chief Kirstjen Nielsen Says U.S. Is 'Out of Space' at the Border for Migrant Families

As Central American families seeking asylum in the U.S. continued to arrive at the southern border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen sounded the alarm that immigration officials had run "out of space" to accommodate them.

Speaking during an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo about her recent visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Nielsen said that "on the resource side, we were just out of space, so unfortunately, we had huge backups to process folks into the country."

Noting that it was "mostly families and children" arriving at the southern border, Nielsen said the situation was "concerning from a humanitarian perspective.

"Just to give them that initial medical triage, to do the intake we have a huge backup, so we're out of space even there," Nielsen said.

The DHS head said that because immigration officials did not "have the authority to keep families together through the immigration process," she believed many adult asylum seekers were being encouraged by smugglers to "grab a child" and "present as a fraudulent family" at the border, under the belief that making an asylum claim as a family would will help their case.

"We don't have the authority to keep families together through the immigration process, so, what this does unfortunately, is it encourages a lot of smugglers to encourage those in Central America coming up to grab a child in some cases or to otherwise present as a fraudulent family," Nielsen said. "It also prevents us from helping actual families who are in fear of persecution or who have a legitimate claim."

The Trump administration has repeatedly accused asylum seekers of presenting as "fraudulent" families at the border to help their chances of being granted asylum in the U.S.

Earlier this week, Nielsen told Fox News' Tucker Carlson that human traffickers were using "child recycling" rings to smuggle asylum seekers into the country.

"We've broken up so-called 'child recycling' rings, if you can believe it, in the last couple of months, which is where smugglers kidnap a child," Nielsen said. "They give it to an adult to cross the border, present themselves as a family.

"Once they get in, because, as you know, we can only hold families for 20 days, they send the child back and bring the child back with another family–another fake family, another adult," Nielsen said.

It is unclear how many cases of such "child recycling" rings the Trump administration had seen. Nielsen said the DHS was "working to crack down on all the transnational criminals; the gangs and smuggling and trafficking."

The DHS chief said that in her opinion, "right now, this is one of, if not the biggest crisis, this country has faced in a decade, truly.

"I mean the security aspects of this, the humanitarian aspects of this, have got to be addressed," she said.

Nielsen also doubled down on President Donald Trump's threat to shut down the southern border if the flow of migration to the U.S. did not slow.

"I don't think the president can be any clearer," she said. "He will take every action within his authority to stop this flow."

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is sworn in before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, November 8, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Nielsen warned that immigration officials were "out of space" at the border. Win McNamee/Getty