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

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Bloomberg campaign lobbied Yang for endorsement, possible VP offer: report Biden looks to shore up lead in SC MORE (D-Calif.) grilled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security 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 TrumpTrump endorses former White House physician Ronny Jackson for Congress Newly released emails reveal officials' panic over loss of credibility after Trump's Dorian claims Lindsey Graham thanks Trump, bemoans 'never-ending bull----' at South Carolina rally  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.