Sen. Dick Durbin (D- IL) called for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign her post this week over the Trump administration’s practice of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Durbin was speaking during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Trump administration’s overall “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which refers anyone detained at the border for prosecution, including asylum seekers who cross over between ports of entry. The practice of separating families technically ended in mid-June, when President Trump signed an executive order reversing his own policy. However, more than 700 children remain separated from their families because their parents have been deemed ineligible for reunification or were deported.
“What will become of these children and their parents, who border agents sadly called ‘deleted family units’? In the name of these deleted family units, 711 lost children, and common decency, I am today calling on the architect of this humanitarian disaster, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to step down,” Durbin said.
He added, “The family separation policy is more than a bureaucratic lapse in judgement. It is and was a cruel policy inconsistent with the bedrock values of this nation. Someone, someone, in this administration has to take responsibility.”
Top immigration officials were brought to Capitol Hill Tuesday to face tough questions from lawmakers about the family separations and subsequent fallout. As of the hearing, 711 children remain in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). At least 431 parents have been deported without their children, some of whom have told immigration attorneys that they were misinformed or coerced into “waiving” their right to be reunited with their children.
During the hearing, Durbin also slammed the policy of detaining immigrant children in facilities with histories of abuse, scolding immigration officials for creating the problem themselves.
“We can have border security without bullying,” he said. “We can be safe without treating toddlers as terrorists. And those who say the blame is on Congress, let me remind them. This is a policy which Judge Dana Sabraw [the federal judge overseeing the reunification suits filed by immigrant advocacy groups]…characterized as ‘a chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making.'”
Durbin is one of a growing group of Democrats in Congress who have called on Nielsen to vacate her post. Earlier in June, 13 Democratic senators and congress members issues coordinated statements, calling on Nielsen to resign and saying they had “zero tolerance for [Nielsen’s] neglect and…policy of […] separating children from their parents.”
The group included Sens. Kamala Harris (CA), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Mazie Hirono (HI), Jeff Merkley (OR), and Tina Smith (MN), as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), Reps. Barbara Lee and Ted Lieu (CA), and Reps. Kathleen Rice (NY), and Donald Payne (NJ).
.@SecNielsen must resign. This is not an immigration issue, it is a humanitarian issue. Children are being used by the Trump Admin to create leverage, with a goal of passing Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. I struggle to think of anything more barbaric. #FamiliesBelongTogether
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) June 18, 2018
“The government should be in the business of keeping families together, not tearing them apart. And the government should have a commitment to transparency and accountability,” Harris stated. “Under Secretary Nielsen’s tenure, the Department of Homeland Security has a track record of neither.”
Nielsen has falsely stated in the past that the U.S. government did not have a policy of separating families at the border under the “zero tolerance” policy. The president himself contradicted Nielsen two days later, telling a group of small business owners in Washington, D.C., “I don’t want children taken away from parents, and when you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away.”