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  • Women’s Refugee Commission Responds to Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen’s Testimony that DHS Does Not Detain Children

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    Washington, D.C.— At a hearing today before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, testified multiple times that DHS does not detain children, despite verifiable evidence to the contrary.

    In response, Katharina Obser, senior policy advisor for the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission issued the following statement:

    “Secretary Nielsen’s claims during key exchanges that DHS does not detain children are as ludicrous as they are alarming, given that the agency detains children in border facilities and in three family detention jails. In particular, Secretary Nielsen never acknowledged family detention practices when asked about the detention of children, even as her agency and the Trump Administration are currently seeking to expand and prolong the use of family detention. Asked about the recent findings of the Department’s own Inspector General that hundreds of children were held well beyond the maximum allowed limit of 72 hours in border facilities during the Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy, Secretary Nielsen insisted that these facilities were “processing,” not detention facilities.  

    “Women’s Refugee Commission has for years documented the harm of family detention. My colleagues and I have visited these facilities on numerous occasions, as far back as 2006, and over the years, we have spoken to dozens of family members about the appalling conditions and treatment, inappropriate medical and mental health care, and the immense barriers to seeking asylum in the United States. DHS’s detention of children has been opposed by experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and even DHS’s own Family Detention Advisory Committee. My colleagues and I have also witnessed the horrific conditions in which DHS detains hundreds of children in its Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, contrary to the Secretary’s insistence that children are not detained but merely “processed” in these facilities.

    “Secretary Nielsen’s repeated claim that DHS does not detain children betrays the truth of each and every one of the detained children and families who have shared their stories with us. Her outright ignorance or denials of the truth before Congress make her claims all the more dangerous and horrifying."