ShareThis Page
World

Lawmakers: DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen asserts family reunifications on track

| Thursday, July 26, 2018, 1:09 a.m.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, center, arrives for a closed doors meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Wednesday, July 25, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, center, arrives for a closed doors meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Wednesday, July 25, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — The chief of the Homeland Security Department has told members of Congress that the government is “on track” to meet the court-ordered deadline Thursday of reuniting hundreds of migrant children with their families, lawmakers who met privately with her said.

The assertion Wednesday by Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was greeted with open disbelief and anger, according to many of the roughly 20 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — all Democrats — who attended. The private, hourlong meeting seemed to achieve little toward dousing lawmakers’ criticism of how children taken from their parents are being handled.

Nielsen also told the group, “I am not a racist,” according to two of the lawmakers. One of them, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said she made the remark after he told her she worked for a “racist regime.” Gutierrez said she cited her friendship with the first lady of Honduras and other Latina women.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, tweeted that she told the lawmakers: “I am not a racist. Nobody believes families should be separated.”

A spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department was asked for comment and did not immediately provide one.

After the meeting, lawmakers said Nielsen provided no statistics to support her assertion that the deadline for reuniting families would be met.

“She said they believe they’re on track” to meet the court deadline, said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., one of several lawmakers who said she used that phrase to describe the status of reuniting separated families.

“That’s impossible. And we all said this to her,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.

Gutierrez said he told Nielsen “she is committing crimes against humanity, that she is a child abuser” and that she is “an accomplice of Donald Trump’s racist regime.”

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego set a Thursday deadline for reuniting children age 5 and older who have been held by the government since their families were caught entering the country without authorization.

As many as 2,551 children age 5 and up were separated from their families and 1,187 children have been reunified with parents, guardians or sponsors, the government has said. The exact number still separated is unclear. The government has been releasing hundreds of families to faith-based groups, which are caring for them.

The government has said 463 migrant parents may have been deported after being separated from their children, further complicating the reunification process. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Nielsen suggested to the lawmakers Wednesday that those children were left behind in the U.S. at those parents’ requests.

“We simply do not believe that’s true,” Menendez said.

A separate deadline that Sabraw had set for reuniting around 100 children younger than age 5 with their families passed two weeks ago. Just over half have rejoined their parents or guardians, according to the latest figures.

The separations caused a bipartisan, nationwide uproar against Trump’s policy of “zero tolerance,” in which the government prosecutes all migrants entering the U.S. illegally.

The government initially separated children from their detained parents or guardians. Under pressure, Trump abandoned the family separation policy, but hundreds of children remain apart from their parents in conditions that visitors have described as horrid.

Nielsen ignored reporters’ questions when she left the meeting.

“Very productive. Very frank,” she said.

The lawmakers said Nielsen also told them her agency is financing the costs of detaining families with a 1 percent across-the-board cut to its programs.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman said the added costs are due to increased numbers of people being caught entering the country, and the money is being used for additional beds and transportation expenses.

Separately, the Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee approved $5 billion for building parts of Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico after rejecting a Democratic effort to redirect that money to other immigration programs.

Trump has requested the $5 billion for next year, but the Senate version of the bill financing the Homeland Security Department has just $1.6 billion. The final amount will need to be worked out later this year.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me