Normalizing “Kids in Cages” – What is The Atlantic Thinking?

Kirstjen Nielsen and Alex Azar Played Central Roles in the Trump Administration’s Horrific Family Separation Policy, Now The Atlantic Festival is Touting Them as Featured Speakers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, citing her role spearheading and defending the Trump administration’s horrific family separation immigration policy, government accountability group Restore Public Trust called on The Atlantic to reconsider former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s inclusion in The Atlantic Festival next week. The group also called on The Atlantic to rethink its decision to give a platform to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose Department failed to provide children separated from their families with adequate care.

“Kirstjen Nielsen and Alex Azar are undeserving of a platform at The Atlantic Festival. Nielsen helped plan, implement, and defend Trump’s horrific policy of ripping migrant children away from their families while Azar showed callous disregard for the children, failing to provide them with adequate care after their separation,” said Karl Frisch, a senior advisor to Restore Public Trust. “The Atlantic should reconsider its decision to help Nielsen and Azar rehabilitate their rightfully tarnished public images. On their watch, children taken from their families were abused and sexually assaulted. Some even died. We can only imagine what other festival speakers must think about sharing a stage with two people so deeply involved in such a heinous policy.”

The Atlantic Festival is billed as a three-day event featuring “some of the world’s most fascinating people” where participants will discuss important issues and “have some fun, too.” In addition to Nielsen and Azar, other speakers include a variety of prominent entertainment, media, and political figures like Disney CEO Bob Iger in conversation with Laurene Powell Jobs of Emerson Collective, an organization that has done work to “help families at the border.” 


  • June 2018: Nielsen Offered “Forceful Defense” Of Family Separation Policy, “Erroneously” Insisted It Was Not New. “Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday effectively became the public face of the Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ strategy that has separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their families over six weeks, offering a forceful defense of the practice while erroneously insisting that it was not the result of a new policy. Pressed into service amid a maelstrom of bipartisan criticism, Nielsen addressed reporters at the White House’s daily briefing in an attempt to quell the mounting outrage over images of children crying after being taken away from their parents by Border Patrol agents at the southern border. Yet Nielsen’s response, which at times contradicted itself, offered evidence that the administration — and perhaps Nielsen herself — was still struggling to formulate a message to counter critics who have accused the Trump White House of creating a humanitarian disaster.” [Washington Post, 6/18/18]
  • Nielsen: “We Will Not Apologize For Doing Our Job.” “Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday defended her department’s policies amid increasingly intense scrutiny over separating children from adults accused of illegally crossing the border. Nielsen, in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association in New Orleans, said the children are provided food, medical attention, education and anything else they might need. ‘We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job,’ she said. ‘This administration has a simple message — If you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you.’” [USA Today, 6/18/18]
  • Former Homeland Security Advisory Council Member Elizabeth Holzman Urged Nielsen To Quit In Her Resignation Letter, Calling Family Separation Implementation “Child Kidnapping, Plain And Simple.” “On June 28, two days after [Judge Dana] Sabraw’s reunification order, DHS officials held a conference call for members of the DHS’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, a group of security experts and former officials who provide recommendations and counsel to the secretary. One member, David A. Martin, said officials had few answers when dismayed members asked how they planned to bring families back together: ‘They were saying, ‘Well, we’re working on it.’ ’ Two weeks later, he and three other members quit the panel in disgust… Another member who resigned, Elizabeth Holtzman, said the failure to create records to track parents and children demonstrated ‘utter depravity.’ ‘This is child kidnapping, plain and simple,’ she wrote in her resignation letter, urging Nielsen to quit.” [Washington Post, 7/28/18]
  • Memo Showed Nielson “Signed Off” On Policy “Knowing It Would Lead To Family Separations,” Contradicting Her Claims There Was No Such Policy. “A memo signed by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen contradicts statements she made at the height of the family separation crisis last spring that the administration did not have a policy of separating children from parents. Nielsen signed off on the option to prosecute all adults who crossed the border illegally, including those with kids, knowing it would lead to family separations. The administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy, which sought to prosecute every adult caught crossing the border illegally, resulted in thousands of families being separated, with some parents being deported without their children.” [BuzzFeed, 9/27/18]


  • Azar: HHS Performing “One Of The Great Acts Of American Generosity And Charity” In Care Of Immigrant Children. “Repeatedly pressed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on ‘The Situation Room’ about why HHS won’t allow media cameras into facilities housing children, Azar said, ‘We have nothing to hide about how we operate these facilities.’ ‘It is one of the great acts of American generosity and charity, what we are doing for these unaccompanied kids who are smuggled into our country or come across illegally,’ Azar added.” [CNN, 7/10/18]
  • Azar Was Tapped For HHS As A “Fixer” After Sec. Nielsen’s “Highly Criticized Press Conference.” “Azar — an even-keeled technocrat whom the White House enlisted as the fixer after Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen’s highly criticized press conference last month — has since been attacked by dozens of lawmakers, interrupted by protesters and pilloried on cable TV. Meanwhile, he’s working through a thicket of court orders and red tape to try to reunite thousands of migrant children in his custody with their parents, including 102 under the age of 5. It’s sapped Azar’s time and pulled his agency away from other priorities, such as lowering drug costs and helping solve the opioid epidemic. […] While making some progress on a tight court-ordered deadline, HHS has already fallen short of the first test. After Azar pledged to reunite all the migrant children under age 5 with their parents, HHS said as many as 64 won’t be moved by a Tuesday deadline.” [POLITICO, 7/11/18]
  • Azar Refused Request To Testify Before Congress On Family Separation Policy. “Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declined a request to testify on the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the border, angering House Democrats who accused the administration of stonewalling their investigation into the controversial practice. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who announced earlier this month plans to hold a hearing on the administration’s separation policy, had asked Azar to testify, a committee spokesperson told POLITICO. Azar’s office declined the request Tuesday afternoon, the spokesperson said.” [POLITICO, 1/22/19]
  • HHS Documents Showed “Thousands” Of Allegations Of Sexual Abuse Against Migrant Youths In U.S. Custody. “Thousands of allegations of sexual abuse against unaccompanied minors (UAC) in the custody of the U.S. government have been reported over the past 4 years, according to Department of Health and Human Services documents given to Axios by Rep. Ted Deutch’s office. […] From October 2014 to July 2018, the HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement received 4,556 complaints, and the Department of Justice received 1,303 complaints. This includes 178 allegations of sexual abuse by adult staff.” [Axios, 2/26/19]

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