Nielsen stressed that families seeking asylum at border entries are not breaking the law.
“As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry,” she tweeted.
A new policy, unveiled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, calls for “zero-tolerance” for immigrants who illegally enter the U.S. along the Mexican border. Sessions warned that violators would be met with “the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice.”
Through the end of May, almost 2,000 children were separated from adults who said they were their parents or guardians, the department said last week.
Nielsen described attacks by some elected officials, the media and advocacy groups on the department’s border efforts as “irresponsible and unproductive.”
“DHS takes very seriously its duty to protect minors in our temporary custody from gangs, traffickers, criminals and abuse,” she said.
Republicans were tentatively planning to offer two bills this week in Congress, one that would sharply curtail legal immigration and another, as yet not revealed, that could draw criticism from conservatives. President Trump on Monday tweeted a challenge to Democrats, saying they should back GOP immigration bills aimed at fixing “the world’s worst immigration laws.
“Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs, including MS-13, coming into our country illegally?” he added.
Trump cited Europe, and particularly Germany, for the “big mistake” of accepting millions of Middle Eastern refugees in recent years.
“The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up,” Trump tweeted. “We don’t want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!”
But controversy over DHS treatment of families continues to heat up. Former first lady Laura Bush said that as a resident of a border state, she appreciates the need to protect the nation’s boundaries.
“But this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral,” Bush tweeted. “And it breaks my heart.”Earlier, first lady Melania Trump also weighed in through her communications director Stephanie Grisham. Melania Trump, Grisham told CNN on Sunday, “believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”