Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday that she does not regret “enforcing the law” last year when the Trump administration implemented its “zero tolerance” policy that led to migrant children being separated from their families.
“What I regret is that that information flow and coordination to quickly reunite the families was clearly not in place,” Nielsen said during an interview with the PBS NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz at FORTUNE’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. She added that it’s the reason why “the practice was stopped through an executive order.”
Nielsen was interviewed Tuesday afternoon. Watch in the video player above.
In 2018, thousands of children were separated from their families because of the Trump administration’s decision to prosecute people coming across the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry. Nielsen signed off on a memorandum that allowed for child separation.
Health experts have repeatedly warned that separating children from their parents, even for a short time period, can cause long-term trauma.
When asked whether anyone had warned Nielsen about the harm separation could inflict on children, the former Trump administration official said she did not hear those concerns “from staff.”
“From the staff perspective, there was this belief that to not enforce the law would encourage trafficking, would encourage children to be used as pawns,” Nielsen said.
Last year, Nielsen denied that a child separation policy existed, despite then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ statements that the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy was likely to cause children to be separated from their parents.
FORTUNE was heavily criticized for including Nielsen in its speaker lineup.
Hillary Clinton dropped out of the summit last week, citing a scheduling conflict, but a person close to Clinton told Slate that she made the decision after learning that Nielsen would be making an appearance.
Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile also dropped out of the event Monday. “Respectfully, I absolutely cannot support Kirstjen Nielsen having a voice among the most powerful and inspiring women in America,” Carlile said in a statement released on Twitter.
With respect and gratitude. pic.twitter.com/rhKpRYf6gF
— Brandi Carlile (@brandicarlile) October 21, 2019
Other speakers decided to attend the event, despite concerns about Nielsen. Amy Nelson, founder of the women-focused coworking space company The Riveter, said she is conflicted, but has decided to attend the summit.
So I’m here. I know many of you will disagree. I respect you. But: what do I ask one of the @realDonaldTrump administration’s most powerful women? (14/15)
— amy_riveter (@amy_riveter) October 21, 2019
“Journalism is complicated. And #mostpowerfulwomen19 is just that: live journalism. This isn’t “Most Liked Women” or “Most Moral Women” or “Most Respected Women.” This is #mostpowerfulwomen19. And like it or not – and I don’t – the Trump administration and his executives are powerful beyond words,” Nelson wrote on Twitter explaining the reasoning for her decision.
Nielsen left the Trump administration earlier this year. She reportedly pushed back against some of the immigration policies that Trump and his aides supported.
The former Homeland Security secretary told Nawaz that she resigned because “it became clear that saying no and refusing it to do it myself was not going to be enough.”
Nielsen was replaced with Kevin McAleenan, but he also resigned earlier this month.