The US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has defended the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their families after they are caught trying to cross the border into America.
The “zero tolerance” policy at the border, with means all cases of adult illegal entry are sent for criminal prosecution, has led to the separation of parents and children and sparked a nationwide backlash. Defending the approach Mr Trump reiterated the importance of border security. “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility… not on my watch,” he said.
Nielsen, appointed by Trump, later told reporters at a White House briefing that the administration was only strictly enforcing the law. We will not apologise for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does,’ news reports quoted her as saying. The reports said Nielsen was at the time speaking to a friendly audience of the National Sheriffs’ Association. She added that “illegal actions have and must have consequences”.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also addressed the police officers said that the government “will not encourage migrants to bring children”. He said if Mr Trump was given the funding he has requested for construction of a border wall, the problem of illegal immigration would be reduced and officials would not be confronted by “terrible choices” such as splitting up families.
Earlier governments followed a “catch and release” policy. Immigrants caught trying to get into the US illegally were released back to their home countries. The Trump government’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, however, means all adults trying to enter the US, including those seeking asylum illegally, are arrested. While parents are held in jail, their children are sent to separate detention facilities, some in remote locations. Video footage released by the government showed migrant children held in wire cages, sitting on concrete floors.
The separation of children from their families has caused outrage in the US and around the world. The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein recently called it “unconscionable” and an “abuse” of the children.
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