Kamala Harris grills Homeland Security secretary on separating parents from kids at border

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris criticized by Jamaican father over marijuana joke Harris adds key Clinton aide, women of color to 2020 campaign: report Coast Guard lieutenant arrested, accused of planning domestic terrorism MORE (D-Calif.) grilled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenImmigrant advocacy groups seek restraining order to block Trump asylum policy The Hill's Morning Report - Trump faces mounting challenges to emergency declaration 2,000 asylum seekers return home, decide to stay in Mexico: report MORE on Tuesday for the administration's policy of separating kids from their parents.

Harris asked Nielsen at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on national security needs and authorities if President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration MORE directed her “to separate parents from children as a method of deterrence of undocumented immigration.”

Nielsen answered that she had not been directed to do so “for purposes of deterrence.”

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Asked why she is separating families, Nielsen said her decision “has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted.”

“If you are a parent or you are a single person or you happen to have a family, if you cross between the ports of entry, we will refer you for prosecution,” Nielsen said. “You have broken U.S. law.”

The recently instituted Department of Homeland Security policy refers all people caught crossing the border illegally to prosecution. Prosecuted parents, as a result, would be separated from their children.

Harris, who is seen as a possible Democratic candidate for president in 2020, kept criticizing the policy of family separation, noting a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics that said separating families can cause “irreparable harm.”

Nielsen restated that her department does not have a policy to separate families but instead one to prosecute people who break the law.