Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen addressed reporters at the White House press briefing Monday in an attempt to defend the administration’s policy of separating families that arrive at the border.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny asked Nielsen how the policy does not constitute child abuse, to which the secretary responded that the children have access to amenities like televisions.
“We have high standards. We give them meals. We give them education. We give them medical care,” Nielsen said. “There is videos. There is TVs. I’ve been visited the detention centers myself. That would be my answer to that question.”
Nielsen’s dismissal of how children are treated at the border after they are forcibly separated from their families comes the same day as ProPublica released audio showing exactly what the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy sounds like. In the harrowing audio, 10 Central American children can be heard wailing for their mother, father, or aunt.
In response, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can be heard joking, “We have an orchestra here… What’s missing is a conductor.”
Nielsen told reporters at Monday’s briefing she has not listened to the audio.
While the secretary claims the needs of these children are being met, the Associated Press reported Monday a 16-year-old girl had to change the diaper of a four-year-old girl because they were left alone. The 16-year-old also taught other children in their cage how to change diapers.
“She was so traumatized that she wasn’t talking,” Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told the AP. “She was just curled up in a little ball.”
On Sunday, CBP released images from one of its processing facilities in McAllen, Texas named “Ursula.” According to CBP, Ursula is one of the largest processing facilities in the country.
Media was invited to tour the facility, but was barred from taking any photos or video, leaving the government to control what the public is allowed to see of the processing station.
These images were just released by border patrol @CBP showing the McAllen, Texas detention facility that we were allowed to tour today. For now, we can only rely on what they give us. They will not allow us inside to film on our own. Why? “Privacy”; they don’t want faces shown pic.twitter.com/laZAyEHwij
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) June 17, 2018
CBP also released video of Ursula.
JUST IN: Video from inside our tour of the Border Patrol's processing station in McAllen — the epicenter of family separations.
You'll see single adult males, but at about 53 seconds in it gets to mothers and girls.
— Jacob Soboroff (@jacobsoboroff) June 18, 2018
Reporters who toured the facility described the scene as hundreds of people sleeping on green sleeping pads and mylar blankets kept behind chain link fences, which the agency refuses to acknowledge are actually cages.
It isn’t too far-fetched to suggest the administration is committing child abuse. Since the policy was announced, medical professionals have voiced their concerns over the potentially harmful affects of the policy on children.
A recent letter from the American Psychological Association (APA) suggested the policy could induce long-lasting psychological trauma among the children.
“Sudden and unexpected family separation, such as separating families at the border, can add to that stress, leading to emotional trauma in children,” it read. “Research also suggests that the longer that parents and children are separated, the greater the reported symptoms of anxiety and depression are for children.”
As psychologists, we have documented multiple harmful effects of parent-child separation on children's emotional and psychological development and wellbeing and urge that the current policy of family separation be reversed." #FamiliesBelongTogether
Read the full letter below: pic.twitter.com/7K90VkMub4
— APA Public Interest Directorate (@APAPublicInt) June 15, 2018
American Academy of Pediatrics President Colleen Kraft had no qualms with describing the policy as child abuse.
“These children have been traumatized on their trip up to the border, and the first thing that happens is we take away the one constant in their life that helps them buffer all these horrible experiences,” Kraft said on CNN Monday. “That’s child abuse.”
Earlier in the day, Nielsen appeared at a speaking event before the National Sheriffs’ Association in New Orleans with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Nielsen doubled down on the administration’s policy, 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.” This is a complete reversal from Sunday, when Nielsen wrote on Twitter that no such policy exists at DHS.