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Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen took questions from the House Homeland Security Committee yesterday, although it would be a stretch to say she answered any. Nielsen stuck to the same line she's taken since last summer: The Trump administration never had a family separation policy, and please never mind all the times John Kelly said taking children from their parents would be an excellent way to deter asylum seekers, or multiple DHS documents discussing the goal of separating families.

Instead, Nielsen insisted there had only been a policy of prosecuting all lawbreakers at the border, although she eventually conceded that, sure, that led to children being taken from their families. But it was definitely not a family separation policy. More of a happy side effect, like when you beat suspects to extract information and they also happen to suffer and die.

Here's Nielsen, in reply to questions by Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, spinning the existence of a policy that Jeff Sessions was very clear about announcing nearly a year ago:


See? No family separation policy, heavens no! "Zero tolerance means prosecuting those who break the law." Also, don't you call it a "policy," you silly congresslady. "Ma'am, It's not a policy. It's the law. We enforce the law." Is "applying for asylum" against the law? It is not. Shut the fuck up, Kirstjen Nielsen.

Nielsen also insisted to Rice,

The consequence of any adult going to jail in this country is they are separated from their child [...] That wasn't the point of it. The point was to increase prosecutions for those breaking the law, and not exempting any class of aliens.

Oh, look, here's a 2017 DHS memo that advocated "separat[ing] family units" at the border -- as a deterrent to immigration.

Nielsen also insisted that golly no, absolutely no parents were deported without being given the "choice" of being reunited with their children and having the kids deported too:

Before we deport any alien, after they have gone through the process and receive a final order of removal, we do ask them if they would like to take their children with them [...] So there was no parent who has been deported, to my knowledge, without multiple opportunities to take their children with them.

Does that match up with what actually happened? NO? My goodness, how unforeseen. For one thing, there were those reports of parents who had passed the first stage of being considered for asylum who were nonetheless told they could "choose" only two options: immediate deportation with their children, or immediate deportation without them (and no option to stay and pursue asylum, don't be silly). Many said they had signed forms in English they didn't understand, or were misled into waiving their rights -- sign here to get your children back, but instead it's a deportation form. Politico reported last year there was simply simply no documentation of such a decision for three-quarters of deported parents. And of course there's the fact that even after a federal judge ordered the government to reunify kids with parents who'd been deported, the government argued finding the deported parents would be too hard, and insisted the ACLU should do it.

Following the hearing, Rep. Rice tweeted, regarding Nielsen's claim that all deported parents had been given the choice to get their kids back,

This is a lie.

Lying to Congress under oath is a felony.

The last person who did that is going to prison.

Don't go getting our hopes up like that, Rep. Rice.

Nielsen's hair-splitting even extended to making an impassioned defense of putting kids in cages at Border Patrol stations. For one thing, the proper, sanitary term is not kids or babies, it's UAC's, for "unaccompanied alien children." And there aren't any cages, no no no:

"Sir, they are not cages, they are areas of the border facility that are carved out for the safety and protection of those who remain there while they're being processed," Nielsen said during an exchange with House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS).

Thompson, unimpressed with Nielsen's euphemistic description, responded by telling her, "Don't mislead the committee."

Nielsen returned to that absolutely vital distinction again in the hearing, insisting there was all the difference in the world between a concrete-floored chain-link containment area for humans and one for dogs, because one has humans in it, jeez, are you people stupid?

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) wasn't buying Nielsen's brilliant semantic game at all. Merkley, who is urging perjury charges for Nielsen's previous statements that there was no "family separation" policy, tweeted they sure as hell are cages:

No cages, only areas carved out for safety and protection. No children, only UACs. No damn cat, no damn cradle.

Nielsen even managed to insist to Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Illinois) that she'd never heard of research showing separating young children from their parents causes severe psychological trauma, because after all science isn't even real:

In reply, Nielsen insisted the only trauma that happens to children comes from their bad, irresponsible parents taking them on a long dangerous journey to the USA to escape violence in Central America. But harm from children being ripped from their parents (and sometimes being told they'd never see their parents again, just for fun)? Nah, never heard of it, despite a federal court ruling finding the practice violated children's rights. Or the testimony of Health and Human Services official Jonathan White, who told Congress in February he had warned in the run-up to family separation that children could suffer "very significant and lifelong psychological impacts."

Oh, yes, and then there's Nielsen's bizarre statement that "so far this year," three children had died in CPB custody:

It became clear that she was actually referring to the two Guatemalan children who died at the end of last year (plus a baby that was stillborn), not additional deaths, but that "so far" was a hell of a thing. Yeah, may be more coming. Stuff happens.

And those are just some of the things Nielsen lied about -- or rather, offered some alternative facts. We didn't even get to her weird refusal to acknowledge Donald Trump is wrong when he says apprehensions at the border are at an "all-time high" (they're way lower than a decade ago), or her defense of the "crisis" at the border, or her attempt to justify cracking down on asylum seekers, who have the right to claim asylum under US law. With Democrats planning to subpoena DHS records and hold additional hearings, we're sure the opportunity will come to document her lies further.

[Vox / Aaron Rupar on Twitter / NYT / LAT / WaPo / New Yorker]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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