The Homeland Security secretary has been seen as weak on enforcement, but on Monday she defended decisions that have left kids warehoused on the border.
Kirstjen Nielsen, President Donald Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security, emerged on Monday as the face of the administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy — though internally, she is not seen as a supporter.
Nielsen made a rare and hastily arranged appearance in the White House briefing room on Monday afternoon, where she defended the separation of nearly 2,000 children from their parents.
Sounding alternately animated and defensive, Nielsen said the administration would “enforce every law we have on the books,” even if it meant breaking up parents and their kids.
White House chief of staff John Kelly advised Nielsen against doing the news conference, but she charged ahead anyway, according to a senior administration official.
She placed blame for some of the heart-rending scenes captured by the news media squarely on Congress and charged that kids are being warehoused because lawmakers have shirked their responsibility to close loopholes in current immigration law.
Inside the administration, Nielsen has argued that implementing a zero tolerance policy would prove tremendously difficult without this, but the administration has pressed ahead regardless.
On Monday, she responded indignantly when asked whether she intended to create a situation in which thousands of children are caged in former big-box stores. “I find that offensive,” she said. “Why would I create a policy that purposely does that?”
Nielsen’s sudden ownership of the administration’s most controversial domestic policy to date came after senior administration officials pushed her to get on message over the weekend.
Last month, she said in her Senate testimony that she shares lawmakers’ concerns about the monitoring of unaccompanied children placed with other family members or guardians.