Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended the Trump administration's controversial immigration policies of separating undocumented people from their children, saying she refused to apologize for it, CNN reported Monday.
"We will not apologize for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does for doing the job that the American people expect us to do," she told the National Sheriffs' Association in New Orleans. "Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get out of jail free cards."
Nielsen characterized a 2015 court settlement, based on a 1997 ruling that mandates children not be detained longer than 20 days, a "historic get out of jail free practice of the past administration."
However, no previous administration has interpreted this as necessitating the separation of parents from their children. Instead, the policy had been to release families with court dates for immigration proceedings and monitoring tactics.
Critics of Trump said such families do show up for their court proceedings in the vast majority of cases and that his policies are unnecessarily cruel since there already exists more humane ways to deal with those who illegally cross the border.
Nielsen compared the arrest and separation of undocumented families to the arrest of any American, saying, "If you commit a crime, police will take you to jail regardless of whether you have a family,” according to the New York Post.
Nielsen also insisted that the media have distorted the story and that the children "are very well taken care of," adding, however, that "If you cross the border illegally, if you make a false immigration claim, we will prosecute you," CNN reports.
She also criticized Congress for the situation, saying, "It is now time that Congress act to fix our broken immigration system. Surely it is the beginning of the unraveling of Democracy when the body who makes the laws, rather than changing them, asks the body who enforces the laws not to enforce the laws. That cannot be the answer."
She said that reforming the immigration laws must include targeting sanctuary city policies, changing the threshold for qualifying for asylum to be much higher, and reversing many protections for children that permit them to be detained for longer or deported immediately.
As for Nielsen's contention that undocumented immigrants should not cross the border illegally and present their asylum claim to the Border Police agent who catches them, but do so at official border crossings to ask for asylum, Vox explained that when asylum seekers do this, "they're often being told they can't come in … [or] that they don't have room to process them today - keeping people waiting outside for days on end, without any indication as to when they will be allowed to seek asylum legally."
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