“This misreporting by members, press and advocacy groups must stop,” Nielsen wrote in a series of tweets Sunday evening. “It is irresponsible and unproductive. As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry.”
“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border,” she continued. “Period.”
Nielsen’s comments come amid growing criticism over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new “zero-tolerance” policy at the border to prosecute as many people as possible for illegally entering the U.S., even if it means tearing families apart.
DHS even published guidelines on its website last week clarifying how such separations take place.
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.— Todd Schulte (@TheToddSchulte) June 18, 2018
The truth matters. pic.twitter.com/0VedFJGkSc
Several White House officials have defended the U.S. stance on illegal border crossings. Last week, White House adviser Stephen Miller appeared to characterize the ongoing separations as a “simple decision” by the Trump administration to combat unauthorized border crossings.
“No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” he told The New York Times. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
An unnamed White House official also alluded to The Washington Post that Trump was using the enforcement to force lawmakers to pass new immigration laws.
“The president has told folks that in lieu of the laws being fixed, he wants to use the enforcement mechanisms that we have,” the official told the newspaper. “The thinking in the building is to force people to the table.”
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway also acknowledged the existence of the policy in an interview with NBC on Sunday, although she said “nobody” liked it. And last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited the Bible as justification “to enforce the law.”
Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that changing immigration detention policy to deter unauthorized border-crossing is illegal. To date, Nielsen has avoided characterizing the new policy as a deterrent or even as a policy at all.
Her latest tweets prompted a widespread outcry from critics on Twitter:
Dear @SecNielsen: You are lying. Period.— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) June 18, 2018
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
If this isn’t the White House policy, please tell the officials who I spoke with in Tornillo today who believe it is. Either own it or change it. Scratch that - just change it. #KeepFamiliesTogetherhttps://t.co/GxyzG1QrmZ— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) June 17, 2018
Who are we supposed to believe, you or our lying eyes. Laura Bush says it best “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.” pic.twitter.com/cy03nTYtG5— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) June 18, 2018
President Donald Trump has blamed Democrats for his own administration’s policy, accusing the party of hosting a “horrible and cruel legislative agenda.” But there is no law that requires families to be separated for crossing the border, and previous administrations often made exceptions in such cases to keep children and their parents together.
Trump also appeared to confirm that there was some “breakup of families” at the border this weekend, even as he shirked the blame:
The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2018
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.