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Will We Normalize or Ostracize Those Involved in Executing and Defending Family Separation?

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Two designers and defenders who executed the Trump administration’s monstrous family separation policy are in the news, posing a test for whether the rest of us will play a role in normalizing or ostracizing those individuals and the administration involved in this moral stain on America. 

Yesterday, former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made a controversial appearance at a Fortune magazine summit. As expected, she attempted to portray herself in a favorable light. Asked if she regretted family separations, Nielsen said, “I don’t regret enforcing the law…What I regret is [that] we haven’t solved it. And what I regret is that that information flow and coordination to quickly reunite the families was clearly not in place.”  

As Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, said on Twitter: “The only words needed from Kirstjen Nielsen today: ‘I approved and oversaw an operation that separated 5,000 kids from their parents. It was wrong. I am responsible. I am deeply sorry, and I know that’s not enough. What I can do is tell the truth about our crimes.’” 

In addition, NBC News is reporting that Chad Wolf, Acting Undersecretary for Strategy at DHS – and former Chief of Staff to Secretary Nielsen – is being considered by the White House to be named (although perhaps not formally nominated) to the top DHS position. NBC also reports on emails that show that Wolf played a leading role as an architect and enabler of family separation: 

As far back as December 2017, when Wolf was acting chief of staff to Nielsen, he sent a list of 16 options to curb the number of undocumented immigrants to Gene Hamilton, counselor to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for review.

Number two on the list: “Separate family units.”

“Announce that DHS is considering separating family units, placing the adults in detention and placing minors under the age of 18 in the custody of HHS as unaccompanied alien children,” Wolf wrote, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that would later be called on to shelter more than 2,800 children separated from their parents in 2018.

Also included on the list were policies that would speed up the deportation of children (which has not come to pass) and require immigrants to seek asylum in Mexico (which has since been announced).

According to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice: “Anyone involved in designing, executing, or defending family separation should be held accountable and ostracized – not given a chance to launder their reputation in Washington circles or empowered with new responsibilities in government service. Administration officials, who stood idly by as the government separated and traumatized families with no plans to reunite them, ought to have a permanent stain on their record that coincides with the permanent damage done to these children. Nielsen and her closest advisors are at the top of that list.”