A top Democrat called Tuesday for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that saw lawmakers of both parties criticize the Trump administration policy of separating migrant children from their detained parents and its botched efforts to reunite many of them.
No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said the policy “shows the extremes this administration will go to, to punish families fleeing horrific gang and sexual violence and seeking refuge in the United States.” He added, “Someone in this administration has to accept responsibility.”
Durbin’s demand will likely be ignored, and Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton quickly issued a statement saying Nielsen is “doing the job she was nominated, confirmed and sworn to do” and said “the obstructionists in Congress” should pass laws protecting U.S. borders.
But the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting migrants entering the U.S. without authorization, and its separation of thousands of children from their parents, has drawn election-year criticism from both parties.
Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Trump’s crackdown on people illegally crossing the border from Mexico was well-intentioned but has had unintended consequences.
He said the administration has “mishandled” family separations. He also cited reports that immigrants have experienced sexual and other abuse at some government detention facilities and said those held must be treated humanely.
Late Monday, Grassley and the Judiciary panel’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, sent a letter asking the inspectors general of the Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments to investigate news organization’s reports of abuse of immigrants at detention centers.
“These allegations of abuse are extremely disturbing and must be addressed,” Grassley and Feinstein wrote. “This is not a partisan issue as reporting suggests many have been occurring for years. Immigrant families and children kept in federal custody deserve to be treated with basic human dignity and respect and should never be subjected to these forms of abuse.”