Correction 6/19 at 9:49 p.m. ET: A previous version of this post stated that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had not visited a facility where children are being held separately from their parents since the Trump administration adopted its "zero tolerance" policy. This assertion was based on DHS’ comment as reported by NBC's Geoff Bennet. But the department later updated its comment to specify that one of the centers Nielsen visited does house child detainees. We’ve reached out to DHS for clarification and updated the story and headline accordingly.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters Monday that she’d witnessed firsthand the facilities where children are being held separately from their parents, but some confusion erupted on Tuesday about whether that was true.
Earlier in the day, DHS told NBC's Geoff Bennet that Nielsen — the person responsible for implementing President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy — had visited two border detention centers recently, neither of which housed children. Later in the day, however, DHS updated its comment to Bennet to note that one of the facilities, Nogales, does have minors in its custody.
Nielsen has not visited the detention center in McAllen, Texas, the largest immigrant processing center in the country. There’s also a new tent city in Tornillo, Texas — which the administration confirmed last week is housing children. About 1,995 children were reportedly taken from their migrant parents in a recent six-week period.
"There has been much outcry, consternation, and frankly misinformation for many in the press, in Congress, and advocacy groups for the last few weeks that we at DHS are intentionally doing things that are unhumanitarian, that are cruel, immoral, and disgraceful. We are doing none of those things," Nielsen said Monday. "We are enforcing the laws passed by Congress and we are doing all that we can in the executive branch to protect our communities. It is now time that Congress ask to fix our broken immigration system.”
“Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it,” Nielsen added, falsely. There is no law that requires the government to separate children from their families at the border.
Nielsen has even gone so far as to insist that the conditions under which children are detained are good. "They are very well taken care of — you know this, as many of you have detention facilities of your own," she said at the National Sheriffs’ Association conference in New Orleans on Monday. "We provide food, medical, education, and all the needs of the child.”
On Monday, whether the children were being held in “cages” became the subject of some controversy after the Associated Press used that term to describe the enclosures where kids are being detained in McAllen. As the controversy over the Trump administration’s family separation policy reaches a boiling point, the specifics of how it’s being conducted have come into sharp focus.