In a House committee hearing Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appeared entirely unprepared for the grilling she received over the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. One of the most glaring gaps in the knowledge that the person in charge of homeland security should have was about how separating children from their families produces what psychologists call “toxic stress.”
In fact, she said she was “not familiar” with the concept that news outlets widely reported about since summer 2018, when studies and profiles about the traumas suffered by separated migrant children began coming out. PBS posted a widely-shared report on just what toxic stress does to the brain and how this is particularly damaging to young kids whose brains are in critical development stages.
“In a situation where children are separated from their parents for a long period of time, they remain on high alert, and their bodies endure prolonged and severe toxic stress as a result. That interrupts the brain’s architecture at a critical time of development, when neural circuits — the pathways necessary to carry information to and from the brain — are forming rapidly, at a rate of more than 1 million neural connections each second in infants and toddlers. Stress hormones block those neurons. This can lead to delayed development in reason, learning and emotional development.”
You would think that something overseeing that exact situation would have at least heard of the idea of toxic stress, but not Kirstjen. While being questioned by Rep. Lauren Underwood, Nielsen said she was unaware of the term and didn’t know that it can interrupt brain development. She did not explain why she had such a critical gap in knowledge directly related to a crisis she’s in charge of, opting instead to repeat over and over that kids need to be with their families and that the system needs to be fixed.
Under questioning from @RepUnderwood, Nielsen admits she was broadly unfamiliar with research indicating kids are traumatized by being separated from their parents before DHS implemented its “zero tolerance” policy pic.twitter.com/tGWnIOQm9S
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 6, 2019
Then fix it, Kirstjen. That’s your job.
She also repeatedly attempted to make excuses for the problem she and her boss, Donald Trump, created by saying that if asylum seekers just don’t seek asylum and stay in their dangerous, poverty-stricken and war-torn countries, then their kids wouldn’t be taken away and traumatized. At one point, she claims that the kids are not in cages in spite of the photos we’ve all seen of kids in cages.
NIELSEN: "Sir, they're not cages!"— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 6, 2019
THOMPSON: "What are they?"
NIELSEN: "They are areas of the border facility that are carved out for the safety and protection of those who remain there while they're being processed." pic.twitter.com/0yjbpPbjDY
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman pressed Nielsen on this, bringing up the chainlink fence and asking her how the “detention space” is different from what you would keep a dog in. Nielsen’s answer? “It’s larger.” Literally.
REP BONNIE: Is it different from what you put dogs in?
REP BONNIE: In what sense?
NIELSEN: It’s larger
B: Sounds like a dog cage pic.twitter.com/hcIEv4zwrE
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 6, 2019
Among the other embarrassing revelations during the hearing were the fact that Nielsen has not been in any contact with the families of the kids who have died in U.S. Border Patrol custody, she doesn’t know much at all about asylum law, and she has no real answer to how a border wall would stop drugs from being smuggled into the country when they mostly come through ports of entry.
All in all, Nielsen appeared to be drowning in the blue wave. If anybody still somehow liked her before today, they don’t now.
She is pure evil— cazzy00 (@cazzy00) March 6, 2019
That's because the answer is "yes."— Jim Zakany (@Jim_Zakany) March 6, 2019
This is called kidnapping, extortion, and child trafficking and everyone involved in it needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And let's not even get into the child abuse that almost is certainly going on in these nightmarish facilities. #Nielsen— Albatross (@Albatross) March 6, 2019
She's going down in history as a monster. This will be compared to Japanese American internment camps. Except they stayed as families.— 🍷FlyFishGirl (@1flyfishgirl) March 6, 2019
.@SecNielsen says this despite many reports from parents that they signed papers they couldn't read bc they were not in their own language Then found themselves being deported Dozens of these parents re-entered US last week with @ACLU & other orgs protection to try to be reunited— Mary Boyle (@Maryeb2Boyle) March 6, 2019
Okay, you can take the "Hon." [for Honorable] off that name card.— Douglas Hardy (@dshardy) March 6, 2019
One wonders if she has ever met a child, let alone a Dreamer.— Cara Erickson (@caraerickson) March 6, 2019
Thanks Aaron for posting this thread. This miscreant is sarcastic and treats hearings like a joke. You wonder if she is trolling the committee by her responses. How is she still in this position? She's going straight to hell.— TOZO (@tozo) March 6, 2019
I will never support this woman, @SecNeilson , in any position she may hold, any person who puts her in the position, any company that hires her after her political career meets its deserved end, or any entity that supports her in any fashion in perpetuity. #cages— Jim "Science-Based" Gobetz 🌊 (@aiki14) March 6, 2019
She looks like the perfect villain of the next horror movie— Jose (@WhoGibbs15) March 7, 2019
She’ll be in plenty of children’s nightmares for many years to come.