Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) demanded the scalp of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Tuesday at the start of a hearing on reuniting illegal immigrants with their children.
The Trump administration missed a Friday deadline imposed by a federal judge to complete the process of reuniting an estimated 2,600 such children separated from adults claiming to be their parents in recent weeks.
“I am today calling on the architect of this humanitarian disaster, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, to step down,” Durbin (pictured above right) said in his opening statement. “The family separation policy is more than a bureaucratic lapse in judgment. It is and was a cruel policy, inconsistent with the bedrock values of this nation.”
A spokesman for DHS did not immediately respond to a LifeZette request for comment.
The separations occurred after Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a zero-tolerance policy toward foreigners who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The April 2018 directive instructed prosecutors to pursue misdemeanor criminal charges against all illegal immigrants referred by DHS.
Those traveling with children went to jail, while immigration officials referred children traveling with the defendants to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
By the government’s reckoning, some 431 of those children remain separated because U.S. officials already have deported their children.
“Someone — someone in this administration — has to accept responsibility,” Durbin said. “We can have border security without bullying. We can be safe without treating toddlers as terrorists.”
Durbin also blasted the term “catch and release” to describe the previous administration’s policy requiring U.S. Border Patrol officers to release many illegal immigrants they apprehended. He said it was “comparing catching children to catching fish.”
Some Republicans have said the solution to the family separation problem is to rescind a 1997 court settlement under which the government agreed not to hold illegal immigrant children longer than 20 days. That is not long enough to adjudicate asylum claims that illegal immigrants are making with increasing frequency.
If the government cannot hold children longer than that and cannot separate parents and children, the only alternative is to release the entire family to wait in the United States for immigration court hearings.
Critics of the current system argue that this has led to an unacceptable number of illegal immigrants skipping court hearings and disappearing into the American interior.
But Durbin made clear that he would not agree to any change to the court settlement.
“It’s the first thing that those on the other side of the aisle ask us to get rid of,” he said. “It’s the last thing that we should get rid of.”