Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile is boycotting an upcoming conference celebrating powerful women, citing the involvement of former secretary of homeland security Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversaw the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant families at the US border.
Carlile was set to attend Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington on Monday, but had a change of heart, and released the following statement Monday morning:
Respectfully, I absolutely cannot support Kirstjen Nielsen having a voice among the most powerful and inspiring women in America. Her access to power is righteously over.
I forgive her. I mean no disrespect. I wish her well and hope that she comes to understand the error in her part of this shameful policy.
When asked by one person on Twitter why she didn’t attend the conference and confront Nielsen with her criticism, Carlile responded, “I gave that a lot of thought because I would ordinarily totally agree. But I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to engage at the same time. She’s scheduled for a different panel. This was my only way to impact the situation this time.”
Though Nielsen resigned from President Donald Trump’s Cabinet in April, the policies put in place at the southern border under her leadership continue to be a source of criticism for the former official as she takes steps to reenter public life.
At the height of the family separation crisis, Nielsen insisted the administration had no policy of removing immigrant children from parents. But a memo later showed 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.
“DHS could also permissibly direct the separation of parents or legal guardians and minors held in immigration detention so that the parent or legal guardian can be prosecuted,” the memo said.
During a hearing on border security in March, the former homeland security secretary was asked about children who were being placed in cages, to which she responded, “Sir, we don’t use cages for children.”
But that is untrue, and there’s photographic evidence that goes against what Nielsen said.
Carlile’s decision to drop out of the three-day summit, which began Monday, comes after former secretary of state Hillary Clinton pulled out of the event due to a scheduling issue.
But according to Slate, the abrupt change in Clinton backing out was due to Nielsen, who will be speaking at the ceremony.
“We work with a lot of activists who are trying to do their best to improve this horrible situation down at the border,” the source told the outlet, highlighting some of the organizations Clinton uses to support asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants.
“At the end of the day, it’s an easy decision. You have to side with them,” they said.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Fortune said:
We believe that the most powerful women in business, who also happen to be some of the most powerful women in the world, have strong views about how the U.S. Administration has handled its immigration policy. We sought out an opportunity to bring the woman who was effectively responsible for that policy to ask her tough questions publicly and on stage about that policy. We brought in Amna Nawaz from PBS NewsHour to do the interview with the clear understanding that this would be a no-holds-barred interview, and that there would be an opportunity for our MPW members to ask questions, as well. That’s how we practice live journalism.
In her statement that addressed why she removed herself from the summit, Carlile said she had “a heart for displaced people,” adding that the separation of families at the border “needs to go down in history as one of the United States of America’s most merciless acts.”
“I don’t think that human rights violators and merit-based abusers of displaced people should be given a platform to ‘reimagine’ history. Ever,” she said.
The singer also shared lyrics from her 2017 song “The Joke”:
They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
The name of the Fortune magazine was misstated in an earlier version of this post.