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Testifying for the first time since President Trump declared a national emergency over illegal immigration, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was grilled about administration's family separation policy — at one point telling House Homeland Security chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.): "Sir, we don't use cages for children."

Nielsen: "Sir, we don't use cages for children. In the border facilities that you've been to, they were not made to detain children. As the children are processed through, they are in some parts of those facilities. I'm being as clear as I can, sir."
Thompson: "Yes or no, are we still putting children in cages?"
Nielsen: "To my knowledge, CBP never purposely put a child in a cage."
Thompson: "Purposefully or whatever, are we putting children in cages? As of today?
Nielsen: "Children are processed at the border facility stations that you've been at --"
Thompson: "And I've seen the cages. I just want you to admit that the cages exist."

The big picture: Nielsen told the committee that there is a "humanitarian catastrophe" at the southern border with Mexico, and that the U.S. is on pace to encounter close to 1 million people seeking entry this year.

  • She cited recent Customs and Border Protection February apprehension data, which showed U.S. border patrol agents arrested or turned away 76,325 immigrants at the southern border — the highest "encounters" in February in the last 12 years. Of those 76,000, 7,250 were unaccompanied children and 40,385 were people who came with family members.

More highlights from Nielsen:

  • "This is a legitimate national emergency. ... We need a barrier. We cannot take operational control with out."
  • "There was no parent who has been deported, to my knowledge, without multiple opportunities to take their children with them."
  • "The consequence of any adult going to jail in this country is they're separated from their child. That wasn't the point of it. The point of it was to increase prosecutions for those breaking the law and not accept any class of aliens."
  • Nielsen said she was unfamiliar with the possible implications of the zero tolerance policy on children's trauma.

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

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Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.