Democratic lawmakers visiting immigration centers in South Texas

CNN/ Newswire | 6/18/2018, 10:49 a.m.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley returned to the South Texas border on Sunday with a group of Democratic colleagues to tour ...
Sen. Jeff Merkley

"You are not breaking the law by seeking asylum at a port of entry," she continued.

"For those seeking asylum at ports of entry, we have continued the policy from previous Administrations and will only separate if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between 'family' members, or if the adult has broken a law," Nielsen added.

A Homeland Security official told CNN that the secretary "is in lockstep with the President on this," but added she is "frustrated" over news coverage that the administration believes to be inaccurate. The source added that department officials are vigorously working to investigate the veracity of the reports because they believe "most of those stories are not all the way true."

Asked about Nielsen's tweet that the administration does not have family separation policy, the official said the department is simply doing more than previous administrations to enforce legislation already on the books.

"It is not a policy, but it is a byproduct of what we're doing," the official said.

'Next Steps for Families' Customs and Border Protection provided CNN with a document titled "Next Steps for Families" during a walk-through of a processing center in McAllen. The document lists several steps for those in the government's custody and includes several actions for people to take under the question "how do I locate my children," including telephoning agency call centers and hotlines or emailing them.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher reported after a tour of the processing center that families are brought through the warehouse and separated by the adults' gender, and that one woman approached CNN, crying and expressing fear about what would happen next.

The visit comes two days after the Department of Homeland Security confirmed the US government has separated nearly 2,000 children from parents at the border since implementing a policy that results in such family separations.

From April 19 through May 31 of this year, 1,995 minors traveling with 1,940 adults who said they were the children's guardians were separated due to the policy, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Friday on a conference call.

Merkley first visited the South Texas border on June 3, where he was denied entry to an immigration center for unaccompanied minors in the border city of Brownsville after asking for a tour of the facility.

"It's damaging to children, putting them through a horrific experience in a land where they know no one and they don't know where they're being sent and don't understand why they're being sent just as a way to be, if you will, cruel as a strategy of deterrence -- not deterrence from people crossing the border, deterrence from people seeking asylum," he said at the time.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders argued Thursday that it's "biblical" for the Trump administration to enforce federal law in a way that separates children from their families at the border when they illegally enter the US. Her comments came when she was pressed by CNN's Jim Acosta on whether she agreed with Attorney General Jeff Sessions' assertion, citing Romans 13, that the Bible requires the Trump administration to follow the law.