Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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Kirstjen Nielsen
Photo by: Chris Kleponis/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Flashback: Watch a Trump official lie about taking kids from their families

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A new report revealed that the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions openly spearheaded intentional family separation at the border in 2018.

A draft report of an investigation by Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz found that top department officials were the "driving force" behind a cruel policy that separated thousands of children from their families during Donald Trump's time in office.

Many of these immigrant parents were seeking asylum in an effort to escape violence in Mexico or Central America.

The new draft report reveals that key DOJ officials didn't view tracking the children's whereabouts as the department's responsibility.

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"I just don't see that as a DOJ equity," said Rod Rosenstein, who was deputy attorney general at the time.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that five U.S. attorneys cited deep concerns for the safety and well-being of separated children at the border, protesting the instructions given to them in May of 2018 to prosecute all undocumented immigrants and separate children from parents if necessary.

Participants on a conference call later that same day alleged that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, "We need to take away children."

They also noted from the call "If care about kids, don't bring them in," and "Won't give amnesty to people with kids."

These new revelations are a sharp departure from the claims of the Trump administration at the time.

In June 2018, after ProPublica caught the eye of the nation when it leaked audio recordings of crying children detained at the border, former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen called a press conference to fiercely deny that intentional family separation was taking place at the border.

In it, she said, "This administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border."

She claimed that no such formal child separation policy existed and that children were only separated from parents who were suspected of criminal wrongdoing. The department, she added a bit testily, was only seeking to protect potential victims of human trafficking.

"We have a statutory responsibility that we take seriously to protect alien children from human smuggling, trafficking, and other criminal actions while enforcing our immigration laws," Nielsen said. "Separation can occur when the parent is charged with human smuggling."

She insisted it was not a strategy to deter asylum-seekers.

"Are you intending for parents to be separated from children? Are you intending to send a message?" one reporter asked.

She responded that she found the question "offensive."

"No," Nielsen said. "Because why would I ever create a policy that purposely does that?”

The night before, Nielsen objected in a series of tweets to "misreporting" by press and advocacy groups alleging cruelty by DHS.

"It is irresponsible and unproductive," she tweeted. "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."

But the administration's denials were an impressive example of doublespeak, since family separation had long been promoted by the administration.

Reuters reported that as early as two weeks after Trump took office, immigration officials first suggested to asylum officers the idea of a family separation policy.

A leaked 2017 DHS memo listed "separate family units" as its second policy option, with the first being "increase prosecution of family unit parents."

"The parents would be prosecuted for illegal entry (misdemeanor) or illegal reentry (felony), and the minors present with them would be placed in HHS custody as UACs," or "unaccompanied children," it read in part. The memo also noted that the "increase in prosecutions" would be reported in the press and "it would have a substantial deterrent effect."

And James Nealon, who was, at the time, Assistant Secretary for International Engagement at the Department of Homeland Security, has noted that one of the most important "things (the Department) wanted" was child separation.

"They thought it would send a very strong signal to impending migrants," he said. "They thought it would be a disincentive to bringing children."

And, in an April 23, 2018 policy, Nielsen herself had signed off on a DHS memo codifying family separation policy, despite her repeated claims that no such policy existed.

The lies of Trump's enablers have never been so cruel, and countless thousands of families and children separated at the border are left to suffer the untold consequences.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.