Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s homeland security advisor, has faced immense scrutiny over the past few weeks due to the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy requires that illegal immigrants be placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshall and prosecuted, while their children are often sent to detention centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Just last month, Nielsen is said to have drafted a letter of resignation after being harangued by Trump, who accused her of failing to support his hardline tactics on immigration. With the administration now in the midst of a political and humanitarian crisis, however, Nielsen has seemingly become an outspoken advocate of the administration’s innocence.
“Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it,” said Nielsen at a June 19th press conference. “Until then, we will enforce every law we have on the books to defend the sovereignty and security of the United States.”
Responding to questions about the culpability of the administration for its policy, Nielsen said, “It’s not a policy. Our policy at DHS is to do what we’re sworn to do, which is enforce the law.”
Nielsen and other members of the administration insisted for several days—in the face of mounting pressure from the media and the public—that responsibility for the crisis and the power to end family separations rested solely with Congress. The day after Nielsen’s press conference, however, Trump seemed to contradict that suggestion when he signed an executive order meant to end family separations.
What exactly Trump’s order will accomplish remains to be seen. As of early May, 2,342 immigrant children have been separated from their parents and are currently being held at detention centers around the country. Neither the Trump administration nor the Department of Homeland Security have outlined a plan for reuniting the children with their parents.
Democrats argue that the abuse and dehumanization of illegal immigrants is occurring and is nothing new in the U.S. A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union details “a pattern of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by Customs and Border Protection officials against child immigrants,” one that began long before what it calls Trump’s “draconian” border policies.
Republicans contend that to allow children to become a “free ticket” for entry into the United States would drastically increase child trafficking. Nielsen recently stated: “In the last five months, we have a 314% increase in adults and children arriving at the border, fraudulently claiming to be a family unit,” which seems to indicate that people are using other children because they believe they’ll receive preferential treatment.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated the argument that the policy was a matter of simple law enforcement and made no bones about its deterrent effect. “I hope people will get the message,” said Sessions in a recent interview, “and come through the border at the port of entry and not break across the border unlawfully.”