Nielsen made her statement on Monday evening, posting it on the department’s Facebook page, the New York Post reported.
“We have confirmed that there are over 600 convicted criminals travelling with the caravan flow. This includes individuals known to law enforcement for assault, battery, drug crimes, burglary, rape, child abuse and more,” she said.
Nielsen also said that most of the migrants among the caravan are male, with smaller numbers of women mixed in.
“It appears in some cases that the limited number of women and children in the caravan are being used by the organizers as ‘human shields’ when they confront law enforcement,” she said, noting that she posted the statement in an effort to “dispel many of the rumours and much of the misinformation circulating.”
Nielsen’s statement followed US President Donald Trump’s claim on Monday that the women photographed fleeing tear gas with children in tow during a confrontation between US Border Patrol agents and migrants at the border near San Ysidro, California, weren’t the children’s real parents, and that “they grab a child because they think they’re going to have a certain status by having a child.”
“You know, you have certain advantages and things with our crazy laws that frankly Congress should be changing. You know, if you change the laws, you wouldn’t have this problem,” the president said.
“I refuse to believe that anyone honestly maintains that attacking law enforcement with rocks and projectiles is acceptable,” she said. “It is shocking that I have to explain this, but officers can be seriously or fatally injured in such attacks. Self-defence isn’t debatable for most law-abiding Americans.”
Last week, a caravan of about 5,000 asylum-seeking migrants from Central American countries reached the Mexican cities of Tijuana and Mexicali near the southern US border. US authorities have deployed several thousand troops to prevent the caravan from crossing the border, while Trump has called for the closing of parts of the border, saying on his Twitter account that “we will close the Border permanently if need be.”