Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Sunday fired off a tweetstorm in response to criticism of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
In a series of five Twitter posts, Nielsen said DHS does not have a policy for separating families at the border, adding that it is not illegal for individuals seeking asylum to arrive at an official U.S. port of entry.
We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) June 17, 2018
“DHS takes very seriously its duty to protect minors in our temporary custody from gangs, traffickers, criminals and abuse,” Nielsen said. “For those seeking asylum at ports of entry, we have continued the policy from previous Administrations and will only separate if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between ‘family’ members, or if the adult has broken a law.”
Nielsen called for an end to what she described as misleading reporting by congressional representatives, members of the press and advocacy groups.
“If you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry,” Nielsen said.
In a speech today to the National Sheriff’s Association conference in New Orleans, Nielsen said the U.S. system for asylum is broken.
Nielsen said the Trump administration has requested Congress standardize its handling of asylum to change the laws to treat migrants from all nations the same.
“To address these issues, we’ve asked Congress to change the law to allow for the expeditious return of unaccompanied alien children, regardless of their country of origin,” Nielsen said.
She added that some migrants arriving with children are “posing as family units” to gain entry into the U.S., calling for these alleged entrants to stop because “all this does is put the children at risk.”
“We are also asking Congress to allow us to keep families together while they are detained,” Nielsen said. “These fixes would go a long way toward discouraging families from sending children on the harrowing journey to the U.S., resulting in fewer children in the hands of gangs, such as MS-13, and more adults facing the consequences of their actions.”
The secretary said the U.S. is “a compassionate country” that has accepted three million refugees from around the world since 1975 and each year admits two-thirds of the world’s settled refugees. She asserted that “our generosity is being abused” by individuals fraudulently claiming asylum.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis, the U.S. has resettled more refugees than any other country since 1980. During years when more people around the globe are displaced by conflict or economic strife, those numbers have increased. But since 2013, the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. has not consistently increased in relation to a growing worldwide refugee population.
Pew’s analysis cited data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the State Department.
Last month, Nielsen told National Public Radio (NPR) that her agency is merely enforcing existing laws, and that criticism of the zero-tolerance policy “is inappropriate and unacceptable.”
That has not stopped what has now become a wave of criticism for the DHS policy of applying the law, NPR reported Monday, citing statements from multiple lawmakers.
President Trump criticized Democrats over the policy in a tweet on Monday.
“Why don’t the Democrats give us the votes to fix the world’s worst immigration laws?” Trump said on Twitter. “Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs, including MS-13, coming into our country illegally?”