A House Homeland Security Committee hearing got heated Wednesday as two top Democrats grilled DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on ICE's practices in detaining illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers.

Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi called on Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York to question Nielsen.

Rice ripped the Department of Justice for instituting a policy that resulted in children of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers being confined "in cages" while their parents' cases were adjudicated.

"It was a policy announced by the attorney general... that families were going to be separated. [They] did not say 'we are going to start enforcing a law," she said.

Rice said the policy was only curbed after pictures of "little kids in cages that had been ripped away from their parents" were published.

Nielsen attempted to respond to Rice, saying she wanted to clarify some of the lawmaker's characterizations.

Thompson interrupted Nielsen to instruct her to "do it in writing so we don't have confusion," and prepared to move on to allow Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) to question the secretary.


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Nielsen then cut in, telling Thompson that the detainment policy "was not as [Rice] described it."

"The consequence of any adult going to jail in this country is that they're separated from their child. That wasn't the point of it," Nielsen said to Rice.

Thompson then asked Nielsen to state whether the government "is still using cages for children."

Nielsen tried to clarify, but Thompson accused Nielsen of "misleading" the committee with "semantics."

Watch the full fiery exchange above.

Earlier in the hearing, Nielsen pushed back on the Democrats' contention that the administration "manufactured" a crisis at the border. The hearing came after stunning new statistics were released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

According to officials, more than 76,000 people tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in February, a "remarkable" leap and the highest number of any February in the past 12 years.

Of those, 7,249 were unaccompanied children, and 40,385 were family units -- totaling 60 percent of apprehensions.



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