'Does it differ from the cages you put your dogs in?': Democrats lambaste Kirstjen Nielsen over whether migrant children are still held in cages at the border

  • Democrats grilled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Wednesday over the Trump administration’s family separations, and asked whether migrant children were still being kept in cages at the border.
  • At the height of the “zero tolerance” policy last spring, a number of images showed children lying on the ground, wrapped in foil blankets, and detained in fenced-in enclosures that many criticised as cages.
  • Nielsen responded that the government has never kept children in cages, instead describing the enclosures as “sub-facilities” meant to ensure children’s safety.
  • The committee chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, told Nielsen he’d visited the facilities and seen the cages himself.
  • “You did too. All you have to do is admit it. If it was a bad policy, then change it, but do not mislead the committee. Do not mislead the committee,” he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had combative exchanges with Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, bickering over the definition of a cage and whether migrant children are still being held in them after crossing the US-Mexico border.

Nielsen was set to testify about border security, but much of the proceedings were devoted to the Trump administration’s family separations that reached a peak last spring during the “zero tolerance” policy.

During that time, images proliferated through the media showing children lying on the ground, wrapped in foil blankets, and detained in fenced-in enclosures that many criticised as cages.

Migrant children detention facility mcallen texasCustoms and Border Protection’s Rio Grande Valley Sector via Associated PressPeople who were taken into custody after illegally entering the US rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas on June 17, 2018.

Read more: Thousands of migrant children were reportedly sexually abused in US government custody

Committee chairman Bennie Thompson at one point interrupted the proceedings to ask about the conditions that children are currently being held in at border facilities.

“For the record, madam secretary, are we still using cages for children?” the Mississippi Democrat asked.

Nielsen responded that the Customs and Border Protection agency doesn’t use cages for children, and instead called the enclosures “sub-facilities” that she said helped divide different migrant groups and ensure children’s safety.

“To my knowledge, CBP never put a child in a cage,” Nielsen said. “Children are processed at the border facility stations that you’ve been at.”

“And I’ve seen the cages. I just want you to admit that the cages exist,” Thompson said, interrupting her.

He continued: “We’re not going to go through the semantics. Now I saw the cyclone fences that were made as cages – and you did too. All you have to do is admit it. If it was a bad policy, then change it, but do not mislead the committee. Do not mislead the committee.”

Mcallen cbp facilityCustoms and Border Protection via Associated PressNielsen described the enclosures as ‘sub-facilities’ meant to ensure children’s safety.

Read more: 18 babies under the age of 1 are currently in ICE detention centres

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat, picked up Thompson’s line of questioning shortly afterward, asking what a “chain-link fence enclosed into a chamber on a concrete floor” represented to Nielsen, who responded that it was a “detention space” that has long been used at the border by previous administrations.

“Does it differ from the cages you put your dogs in when you let them stay outside?” Watson Coleman asked Nielsen.

“Yes,” Nielsen responded. “It’s larger, it has facilities, it provides room to sit and stand and lay down.”

“So does my dog’s cage,” Watson Coleman said.

The border facilities that CBP uses to detain migrants at the border have come under particular scrutiny in recent months, particularly after two youngmigrant children died within three weeks of one another in Border Patrol custody.

Immigration advocates, childcare experts, and pediatricians have decried the conditions of the facilities and said they’re ill-equipped to handle children.

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