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Kristen Nielsen and the Trump Administration Still Don’t Care About Children

Either Homeland Security Secretary Kristen Nielsen lied to Congress or she's genuine indifferent to the fate of thousands of children. Neither answer is acceptable.

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On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristen Nielsen testified about the situation on the southern border before the House Homeland Security Committee. The committee, headed by Democrat Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, more or less berated the Secretary on the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, which has led to 2,600 migrant children being separated from their parents, many being housed in cages, and several dying.

When questioned, Nielsen said she had no idea how many children were currently in ICE custody and denied that the “fenced-in” areas that kept migrants separated from one another were cages. She also explained she did not believe that the no tolerance policy would lead to trauma for children beyond the trauma endured while traveling from their home country to the Southern border. This suggests she either deliberately ignored the American Academy of Pediatrics’ warning that these separations would cause, for many children, irreparable psychological harm, as well as the countless protestations from academics and scientists — much less the real stories of kids dramatically regressing cognitively while in custody away from their parents.

Despite the consistent line of questioning about the harms the policy she was responsible for enacting would do for children, Nielsen focused on her talking points: that the border crisis was not manufactured, that migrant flow is a threat to national security, that parents shouldn’t be bringing their children to America, and that she did not know how many kids were in the system.

That the DHS secretary wouldn’t know how many kids are detained in a system that she controls is alarming, but no more alarming than the fact that Nielsen said she wasn’t aware that the family separation process would cause trauma to kids. Her callousness and irresponsibility are, at least, consistent.

Here’s a fact: Many children didn’t recognize their parents upon reunification because they were too distraught and other regressed back into diapers despite being potty trained. Additionally, thousands reported being sexually abused. Nielsen, in this testimony, essentially shrugged her shoulders and said that the price Americans should be willing to pay for national security. For Americans who care about kids, this is a disgusting idea.

It’s specifically troubling that the Trump administration has so little regard for kids in light of the fact that new statistics indicate that over half of new babies born in this country aren’t white. But troubling doesn’t mean surprising. If the cages were filled with white kids, rather than the kids of people who might not speak English or are fleeing violence from their home countries, the administration would act or, at the very least, familiarize themselves with the potential fallout of their policies. After all, Trump has remained focussed on murders of Americans by undocumented migrants despite the fact undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than citizens. Make no mistake, racism hurts kids and racists don’t care.

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Nielsen doesn’t know how many kids her department has traumatized. And she doesn’t know how many kids her department will traumatize. Today, business goes on as usual.