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

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSteyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates Gabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch MORE (D-Calif.) grilled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenDOJ to Supreme Court: Trump decision to end DACA was lawful Top immigration aide experienced 'jolt of electricity to my soul' when Trump announced campaign Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role 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 TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future 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.