Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday defended the Trump administration and suggested that would-be asylum seekers return when the U.S. is better prepared.
“We are not turning them away, we are saying, ‘we want to take care of you in the right way; right now, we do not have the resources at this particular moment in time, come back,’” she said at a White House press briefing. There have been several reports that the U.S. has closed ports of entry for those seeking asylum.
She denied that the separation policy was meant to be a deterrent.
Facing a firestorm of criticism for the Trump administration’s separating families, Nielsen said only Congress can fix the policy of separating children and parents at the border.
Nielsen said she had not heard audio of children at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility that was published Monday by the group ProPublica. In the audio, children can be heard crying and asking for “mommy” and “daddy.” One is heard asking whether, when she’s finished eating, her mother will be called to come and get her. “I have her number memorized,” the child says.
Nor could the DHS chief explain why only images of boys being held have been released, not girls.
“I don’t know what pictures you’re referencing,” she told reporters.
Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said President Donald Trump could stop the separation policy by himself, with an order to Nielsen’s department.
Trump is facing mounting pressure from both sides, and on Monday No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn said parents who are awaiting court proceedings shouldn’t have to be separated from their children.
Asked why Trump hasn’t expressed compassion for families separated at the border, Nielsen said she thought Trump has expressed “in tweets” that he’d like Congress to act.
Nielsen said parents who entered the country illegally “are by definition criminals.”