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Photo: Olivier Douliery, Pool/Getty Images

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended the Trump administration's controversial "zero tolerance" border policy that criminally prosecutes every adult illegally crossing the border — a move that has separated almost 2,000 children from their parents — during remarks at the National Sheriffs' Association conference Monday morning.

The big picture: Nielsen said that Border Patrol officers are enforcing laws passed by Congress, adding that Americans shouldn't "believe the press" when it comes to the treatment of minors. (Enforcing the family separation policy is not a law and is solely the Trump administration's decision.) Commenting on the policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said, "If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally."

What she said:

  • "It is important to note these minors are very well taken care of. Don't believe the press."
  • "Illegal actions have and must have consequences, no more free passes, no more get out of jail free cards. In communities every day, if you commit a crime police will take you to jail regardless of whether you have a family."
  • "Surely it is the beginning of the unraveling of democracy when the body that makes the laws rather than change them asks the body that enforces them not to enforce the law, that cannot be the answer."

The backdrop: The policy has garnered criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including from prominent Republicans like former First Lady Laura Bush and Sen. Lindsey Graham. First Lady Melania Trump also issued a statement saying she "hates to see" families being separated.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
17 mins ago - Economy & Business

First glimpse of the Biden market

Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images

Investors made clear what companies they think will be winners and which will be losers in President Joe Biden's economy on Wednesday, selling out of gun makers, pot purveyors, private prison operators and payday lenders, and buying up gambling, gaming, beer stocks and Big Tech.

What happened: Private prison operator CoreCivic and private prison REIT Geo fell by 7.8% and 4.1%, respectively, while marijuana ETF MJ dropped 2% and payday lenders World Acceptance and EZCorp each fell by more than 1%.

Mike Allen, author of AM
48 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden-Harris, Day 1: What mattered most

President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden arrive at the North Portico of the White House. Photo: Alex Brandon-Pool/Getty Images

The Axios experts help you sort significance from symbolism. Here are the six Day 1 actions by President Biden that matter most.

Driving the news: Today, on his first full day, Biden translates his promise of a stronger federal response to the pandemic into action — starting with 10 executive orders and other directives, Caitlin Owens writes.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Read: Pete Buttigieg's opening statement ahead of confirmation hearing

Pete Buttigieg, President Biden's nominee to be secretary of transportation, in December. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/AFP via Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg, President Biden's nominee to lead the Transportation Department, will tell senators he plans to prioritize the health and safety of public transportation systems during the pandemic — and look to infrastructure projects to rebuild the economy — according to a copy of his prepared remarks obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: Buttigieg will testify at 10 a.m. ET before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. He is expected to face a relatively smooth confirmation process, though GOP lawmakers may press him on "green" elements of Biden's transportation proposals.