Former Obama top official defends migrant detention centers, says 'cages' not invented when Trump took office

Jeh Johnson, a Homeland Security secretary under former President Barack Obama, defended the use of holding facilities on Friday, indicating that immigration law put both President Trump and his predecessor in a tough situation for housing immigrants.

Johnson said that chain link fences or "cages" weren't ideal but were one of the ways authorities dealt with a mass immigrants that had to be transferred to Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours.

"During that 72 hour period, when you have something that is a multiple -- like four times of what you're accustomed to in the existing infrastructure, you've got to find places quickly to put kids," he said before suggesting the alternative was putting them on "the streets."

Johnson made those comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Friday after Congress passed a massive spending package designed to help improve conditions at migrant holding facilities.

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Trump's administration has received intense criticism for the way it treated migrant children -- including putting kids in "cages" -- but some have noted that migrants faced similar facilities under Obama.

"Chain link barriers, partitions, fences, cages -- whatever you want to call them -- were not invented on January 2017," Johnson said, referring to the month of Trump's inauguration.

Numerous reports surfaced in June, claiming that migrants faced inhumane conditions under the president's administration. The issue came to a head after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., visited a facility and claimed that migrants were forced to drink toilet water. Current and former officials have since pushed back on her claims.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., also called for federal authorities to face child abuse charges for the way they treated migrants.

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"There ought to be criminal prosecutions of some of the agency heads and some of the people for child abuse. This is clearly child abuse. It violates probably half a dozen laws," he said.

Republicans, however, have pointed out that their party pushed an aid package for migrants -- something Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats seemed reluctant to approve. "How many migrant women did [Ocasio-Cortez] help by voting AGAINST the $4.6 billion bipartisan humanitarian aid that is FOR THEM?" White House adviser Kellyanne Conway tweeted on Tuesday.