Smuggling cartels are making at least $500 million a year bringing migrants into the U.S., Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress on Tuesday, outlining the scope of the problem for lawmakers as illegal border crossings continue to surge.

Ms. Nielsen took a firm stand on the causes of the surge, saying economies in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are growing and homicide rates are falling, suggesting the push factors back home should be easing. Instead, she said, the booming U.S. economy and lax American laws are enticing the flow northward.

That contradicts the narrative offered by immigrant rights activists, who have said violence in Central America has spawned the wave of illegal immigrants over the past few months, erasing gains made during President Trump’s early weeks in office and sending the rates of illegal immigration back up to the levels seen under President Obama.

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