Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez charged that the Trump administration’s immigration policies were plainly unchristian and would have blocked Jesus Christ and his family from fleeing to safety in Egypt.
The congressman from Illinois slammed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she testified Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, where she announced that asylum seekers would no longer be able to wait in the U.S. while their claims of persecution proceed through the U.S. court system. Instead, they’d have to wait their turn in Mexico instead, potentially for years, in a dramatic deviation from previous U.S. immigration policy.
But some of what Democrats see as the Trump administration’s past indiscretions on immigration policy also came up — like its now-defunct “zero tolerance policy,” which effectively separated undocumented migrant children from their families at the border.
“Just in time for the holidays, the remorseless secretary,” Gutierrez said, as he accused Nielsen of lying after she tweeted that the administration didn’t have a policy of separating any children.
The zero tolerance policy officially stopped in June, but migrant children are still quietly being taken from their family members, according a USA Today report last month. The administration, however, stressed it's keeping children for their own safety and security.
“During Christmas, a time in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ — a Jesus Christ who had to flee for his life with Mary and Joseph — thank God there wasn’t a wall that stopped him from seeking refuge in Egypt!” Gutierrez yelled. “Shame on everybody that separates children and allows them to stay at the other side of the border fearing death!”
While Gutierrez didn’t ask Nielsen a question, she responded that she wasn’t a liar, that there was never a formal policy on family separation, and that she wasn’t without compassion.
While her statement on family separation is factual, the “zero tolerance” policy — which prosecuted anyone who crossed the border without authorization — sent parents to federal jails that couldn’t house children. So children had to be separated from their parents as they awaited trial as a consequence of the Trump administration’s actions. “I’m not a liar; we’ve never had a policy for family separation,” Nielsen said. “I’m happy to walk the gentleman through it again.” “What we did do is uphold the laws that Congress has passed, and we prosecuted those who choose to come here illegally,” Nielsen continued. “As far as not being compassionate, let me just tell you what I have done — and of course he [Gutierrez] couldn’t be bothered to stay, so I’m happy to tell the rest of the committee.” Nielsen, who added that she was offended by Gutierrez’s comments, said those compassionate examples included mitigating human trafficking and helping migrants avoid people who “prey on them and abuse them."
Cover image: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)