'How is this not child abuse?': Homeland Security secretary gets mercilessly grilled over family separation policy in heated press briefing
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
- 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.
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"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."
Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector via Associated Press
Nielsen and the White House continued to face public backlash after offering what appeared to be conflicting statements on the "zero tolerance" policy.Despite Nielsen saying on Twitter that DHS did "not have a policy of separating families at the border," Attorney General Jeff Sessions explicitly endorsed the policy in May.
"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.
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