In a "heinous lie" aimed at distorting the historical record and avoiding responsibility for the mass cruelty perpetuated on her watch, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen falsely claimed in a series of tweets late Sunday that the Trump administration does "not have a policy of separating families at the border."
"2000 kids didn't voluntarily decide to leave their parents. You forced the separation. Get it?" —Rep. Ted Lieu
"This misreporting by members [of Congress], press, and advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive," Nielsen wrote, neglecting to mention data from her own department showing that nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families in just six weeks due to the Trump adminstration's so-called "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) June 17, 2018
Lawmakers, activists, and reporters who have persistently highlighted and denounced the Trump administration's family separation policy—which was officially unveiled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May—were quick to call out Nielsen's blatant lie on Sunday, pointing out that a quick look at her department's website is enough to expose the falsehood.
Prominently featured on the DHS's "fact sheet" for its zero tolerance policy, dated June 15, is the question: "Why Are Parents Being Separated From Their Children?"
DHS "may separate a parent or legal guardian from his or her child for several reasons, including situations where DHS cannot ascertain the parental relationship, when DHS determines that a child may be at risk with the presumed parent or legal guardian, or if a parent or legal guardian is referred for criminal prosecution, including for illegal entry," the website notes.
Here is the June 15 press release announcing the new policy of separating children by the department of homeland security, found by @businessinsider. Proves this is a policy change. https://t.co/tCmo6CXXKb
— Steve Liesman (@steveliesman) June 18, 2018
Dear @SecNielsen: You are lying. Period.
How do we know you are lying Sec Nielsen? Because Stephen Miller pushed for the policy change & AG Sessions gleefully announced it.
Also, 2000 kids didn't voluntarily decide to leave their parents. You forced the separation. Get it? https://t.co/BNqyZa7P7D
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— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) June 18, 2018
Todd Schulte, president of the advocacy group FWD.us, added that the DHS website also contains a flyer outlining "the steps a parent in Border Patrol or ICE custody can take to locate their child, once said child has been separated from them."
This is a flyer from @DHSgov that outlines the steps a parent in Border Patrol or ICE custody can take to locate their child, once said child has been separated from them. Note: it only guides on how to locate a kid, not how to reunite.
The truth matters. pic.twitter.com/0VedFJGkSc
— Todd Schulte (@TheToddSchulte) June 18, 2018
"This is a lie," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) concluded in response to Nielsen's tweet on Sunday. "There is no law. There is no court mandate. This is a policy made solely by this administration, and you can stop it right now. And every second you don't you are directly responsible for unimaginable amounts of misery. Period."
"You have a policy of criminally prosecuting any asylum seeker who crosses the border between ports of entry. Period. Parents go into custody and kids are shipped off to facilities—over a misdemeanor."
By attempting to deny the very existence of the Trump administration's family separation policy, Nielsen flatly contradicted statements from other White House officials like Chief of Staff John Kelly and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who have celebrated the practice of ripping kids from their parents' arms as a strong "deterrent" against border crossings.
And as many were quick to point out following her tweet on Sunday, Nielsen herself acknowledged the policy that she now claims doesn't exist in an interview with NPR just days after Sessions announced the White House's "zero tolerance" plan.
"Operationally what that means is we will have to separate your family," Nielsen said, referring to the Trump administration's decision to refer for criminal prosecution all immigrants who cross the border illegally.
Responding to Nielsen's lie on Sunday, the ACLU explained, "You have a policy of criminally prosecuting any asylum seeker who crosses the border between ports of entry. Period. Parents go into custody and kids are shipped off to facilities—over a misdemeanor."