Kirstjen Nielsen Lied To Congress About Family Separation? LOCK HER UP!
Maybe 'No family separation policy' was a pun. Or a palindrome.
US Senator Jeff Merkley is calling for the FBI to investigate Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for lying to Congress last month when she denied the existence of a family separation policy in House testimony.
Thursday, Merkley released to NBC News an internal Homeland Security document in which DHS and the Justice Department hashed out plans for what would become the Trump administration's family separation policy, arguing that separating familiies would scare asylum seekers away from the US. The document is from December 2017, well in advance of the family separation policy Nielsen repeatedly said didn't exist.
The document Merkley released is actually the second DHS memo to show Nielsen was lying; a previous memo from April 2018 also discussed options for taking kids from their parents at the border. That first memo was released last September, after a FOIA request, but Nielsen nonetheless said under oath, when she testified to the House Judiciary Committee in December, "I'm not a liar, we've never had a policy for family separation." She also has claimed DHS was simply enforcing existing laws, so no new policy, no new policy, YOU'RE the new policy.
On Friday, Merkley issued a press release calling on the FBI to investigate Nielsen for perjury, since a year before her statement to the House, that 2017 memo makes clear DHS and Justice were working together -- colluding, as it were -- to create a new enforcement regime that would result in families being separated, and that such separations would serve as a deterrent to families seeking asylum.
Let's take a quick look at what that 2017 document says about taking kids away from their parents, huh? Oh, look, it's right here in the second fucking paragraph!
That sure as fuck seems to talk about a policy of separating families. The sort of thing you might describe as a f amily separation policy. Unless of course you genuinely believe your own hair-splitting bullshit.
The administration's fig leaf for family separation, of course, was always the insistence that the government only intended to prosecute all unauthorized border crossers (the "zero tolerance" bullshit), and that, well gosh, yeah you couldn't jail kids with their parents, so taking the kids away and putting them in the care of Health and Human Services was merely an unfortunate side effect, not the thrust of the policy. The memo is perfectly upfront about the desired effect of prosecuting migrants and taking their kids away, stating the "increase in prosecutions would be reported by the media and it would have a substantial deterrent effect." (Also, no, it didn't deter jack shit .)
The DHS memo also offers a peek into the planning for additional policies that later became reality, like the decision to share with ICE the background checks HHS performed on prospective sponsors for unaccompanied minors, a fun trick that resulted in arrests and deportations of undocumented relatives of families trying to get kids out of baby jail. The administration's plan to remove all asylum seekers to Mexico while their cases are adjudicated is covered, too.
The 2017 memo even discusses a bunch of other awful ideas DHS and Justice were kicking around but never implemented; there's no telling whether they've been dropped or may still be rolled out. The most horrifying was a suggestion that once kids were taken from their parents, the government could simply deny the children an asylum hearing and deport them immediately, possibly even while their parents were still in custody.
"If CBP issues an ER [expedited removal] for the entire family unit, places the parents in the custody of the U.S. Marshal, and then places the minors with HHS, it would seem that DHS could work with HHS to actually repatriate [deport] the minors then," the official wrote.
"It would take coordination with the home countries, of course, but that doesn't seem like too much of a cost to pay compared to the status quo."
It is unclear from the official's comment whether the government planned on reunifying children with their parents before they were deported.
Now, a DHS official insisted to NBC News that OF COURSE the plan would have been to reunify the kids and parents before any such deportation, but as NBC points out, the document makes no mention of reunifying them. And we know quite well that once family separation got rolling, parents whose kids had been taken away were regularly deported while the kids remained in US custody, with no attempt to keep track of the deported parents. So there's no reason to think the administration wouldn't have also considered putting small kids on a plane for Honduras or Guatemala and leaving them at the airport for those countries to deal with. They're illegals, and hence not our problem; really, are they even human?
Beyond that, a note from DOJ suggested the government not simply prosecute parents for illegal border crossings, but that they also be targeted by human trafficking laws if they paid someone to bring them into the US:
I would suggest referring sponsors for criminal prosecution under [ Title 8, US Code 1324 ] if information indicates the sponsor facilitated the travel of the minor into the United States.
Yup, that would have effectively put administration rhetoric about parents "trafficking" their own kids into an actual framework for criminal prosecution, because attempting to escape crime and gangs in your home country is actually child abuse and only a monster would do such a thing.
It's not yet clear whether the FBI will take any action on Merkley's request, but now that Democrats control the House, we're sure the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Jerry Nadler, will be awfully interested in inviting Secretary Nielsen to explain what she meant.
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