Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had a clear message for the National Sheriffs’ Association this morning: Don’t worry about the immigrant kids separated from their parents at the border.
“It is important to note that these minors are very well taken care of,” she said. “Don’t believe the press. They are very well taken care of.”
“We operate according to some of the highest standards in the country,” she continued. “We provide food, medical, education, and all needs that the child request.”
Nielsen resolutely defended the practice of separating children from their parents.
“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 said. “Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get-out-of-jail-free cards.”
In a six-week period from April 19 through May 31, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents at the border, DHS spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman told reporters last week. The children are subsequently put in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. Some then go to foster care, while many others are put in massive shelters—including at least one shelter in a converted Walmart—where they await reunification with their parents or release to family members in the United States.
Antar Davidson, a former employee at one of the facilities housing undocumented children, told the Los Angeles Times last week that the facility was understaffed and prison-like.
“During his time at the shelter, children were running away, screaming, throwing furniture and attempting suicide, Davidson said,” the Times reported. “Several were being monitored this week because they were at risk of running away, self-harm, and suicide, records show.”
In a statement released last month, the American College of Physicians said separating children from their parents damages their health.
“Childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences create negative health impacts that will last an individual’s entire lifespan,” the statement said. “Separating a child from his or her parents triggers a level of stress consistent with trauma. Families seeking refuge in the U.S. already endure emotional and physical stress, and separating family members from each other only serves to dramatically exacerbate that stress.”