Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, directly contradicted her colleagues in a multi-tweet thread Sunday evening, claiming preposterously that the Trump administration had no child separation policy for families detained at the U.S. southern border.
“This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive,” Nielsen wrote, referring to multiple reports from several outlets detailing accounts of immigrants separated from their children after seeking asylum in the United States. “As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry. You are not breaking the law by seeking asylum at a port of entry.”
We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) June 17, 2018
She added, “For those seeking asylum at ports of entry, we have continued the policy from previous Administrations and will only separate if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between ‘family’ members, or if the adult has broken a law. DHS takes very seriously its duty to protect minors in our temporary custody from gangs, traffickers, criminals and abuse. We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”
On Monday morning, speaking to the National Sheriffs’ Association in New Orleans, Nielsen doubled down, saying, “We will not apologize for doing our job. We have sworn to do this job. This administration has a simple message: if you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you.”
Nielsen’s comments come only two days after the Associated Press obtained DHS figures showing that nearly 2,000 children had been separated from their parents by border officials during a six-week span between April 19 and May 31 this year. The family separations are part of a new “zero-tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 6.
Nielsen herself actually announced the policy during a border tour on May 31, touting the practice of separating children from their families by claiming the United States was a “nation of immigrants but also a nation of laws.” In an interview with NPR earlier in the month, the secretary was even more explicit about the new family separation policy, stating bluntly,
…If you are single adult, if you are part of a family, if you are pregnant, if you have any other condition, you’re an adult and you break the law, we will refer you. Operationally what that means is we will have to separate your family. That’s no different than what we do every day in every part of the United States when an adult of a family commits a crime. If you as a parent break into a house, you will be incarcerated by police and thereby separated from your family. We’re doing the same thing at the border.
The secretary’s rant also flies in the face of statements from other Trump administration officials, all of whom have given varying confusing responses to questions about the policy.
In May, White House chief of staff John Kelly confirmed that such a policy did exist and was adamant that it would deter those without documentation seeking to enter the country.
“[This is] the name of the game to a large degree,” he said, speaking with NPR. “…I sympathize with [their] reason [for coming here]. But the laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence.”
Kelly stressed that the policy would be a “tough deterrent,” noting there would be a “much faster turnaround on asylum seekers.”
“The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever,” he said, when asked if he believed that policy was “cruel” or inhumane. “But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”
And as recently as this past weekend, the White House itself was actively defending the family separation policy. According to President Trump’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller — an unabashed supporter of the idea — the decision to implement family separation was “simple.”
“No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” he told The New York Times. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
Both Trump and Sessions have given their own excuses for the policy, the latter using a Bible passage to defend it and appearing to suggest God supported such a decision, the Washington Post reported.
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said, speaking to a crowd of law enforcement officers in Indiana on Thursday. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”
Trump, meanwhile, has rolled out his own excuse in the wake of the backlash to the family separation policy, one that’s been picked up and circulated by Republican Party leaders: Democrats made him do it.
“I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law,” he said, speaking with reporters on Friday.
The president has tweeted similar comments on multiple occasions, including Monday, when he accused Democrats once more and claimed they weren’t as upset about gang violence as they were about child separations.
CHANGE THE LAWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2018
“Why don’t the Democrats give us the votes to fix the world’s worst immigration laws?” he wrote. “Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs, including MS-13, coming into our country illegally?”
In a follow-up tweet, he added, “CHANGE THE LAWS!
As many have noted, there is no law in place that requires the administration to separate families at the border.