'How is this not child abuse?': Homeland Security secretary gets mercilessly grilled over family separation policy in heated press briefing
- Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen faced an onslaught of questions at the White House amid growing criticism over the department's enforcement of a "zero-tolerance" policy targeting migrant children and their families who cross the US-Mexico border illegally.
- One White House correspondent asked Nielsen whether the forced separation can be considered "child abuse."
- Nielsen said the Trump administration is enforcing the law while trying to "find a long term fix."
Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen faced an onslaught of questions at the White House amid growing criticism over the department's enforcement of a "zero-tolerance" policy - criminally prosecuting migrants who cross the US-Mexico border and separating them from their children.
"How is this not specifically child abuse for these innocent children who are indeed being separated from their parents," CNN White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny asked, referring to children who were separated from their parents and held in detention centers.Nielsen answered by calling the US a "country of compassion" and then pointed out the 10,000 of the 12,000 children in care of Health and Human Services who she said had arrived to the US as unaccompanied minors.
"That's when they were separated," Nielsen said. "Somehow we've conflated everything. But there's two separate issues."
"Ten-thousand of those currently in custody were sent by their parents with strangers to undertake a completely dangerous and deadly travel alone," Nielsen said. "We now care for them, we have high standards, we give them meals, we give them education, we give them medical care. There is videos, there's TVs."
But Zeleny continued to press Nielsen on whether it's considered child abuse that the government has separated some 2,000-plus children from their families at the border.
Nielsen never directly answered that question.
"Unfortunately, I'm not in any position to deal with hearsay stories," Nielsen said. "If someone has a specific allegation, as I always do when I testify, I ask that they provide that information to Department of Homeland Security. Of course we do not want any situation where a child is not completely adequately taken care of."
Nielsen and the White House continued to face public backlash after offering what appeared to be conflicting statements on the "zero tolerance" policy.
"If you cross the border unlawfully ... we will prosecute you," Sessions said at the time. "If you're smuggling a child, then we're going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don't want your child separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally."
Speaking to reporters, Nielsen said the Trump administration was merely enforcing the law and was trying to "find a long term fix."
During the Obama administration, undocumented migrant families that were apprehended were detained together under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.
"We've had a shelter system for years," Cecilia Muñoz, the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council during the Obama administration, said to CBS News. "What's different now is that this administration is choosing to separate children from their parents."