"To a select few in the media, Congress and the advocacy community, I'd like to start with a message for you: this department will no longer stand by and watch you attack law enforcement for enforcing the laws passed by Congress," Nielsen said, speaking to the National Sheriffs' Association in New Orleans.
"We will not apologize for the job we do, for the job law enforcement does and for the job the American people expect us to do."
Nielsen went after critics head-on.
"I want to take a minute to address the consequences of actually enforcing our immigration law. There has been much outcry, consternation, frankly misinformation in the media, press and advocacy groups around the country the last few weeks, that we at DHS are intentionally doing things that are un-humanitarian, that are cruel, immoral and disgraceful," she said. "We are doing none of those things. We are enforcing the laws passed by Congress and we are doing all that we can in the executive branch to protect our communities," she continued.
Nielsen insisted there were only two options: release the family that has crossed the border, which she referred too as the historic "get out of jail free practice," or prosecute the parents.
"The adult and the minor will be separated as a result of prosecuting the adult. Those are the only two options," She went on to say that it is the "unraveling of democracy" - when Congress asks DHS not to enforce the law.
Later in the morning, the Attorney General echoed her points.
"We do not want to separate children from their parents. We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully either, placing those children at risk. But we do have a policy of prosecuting adults who flout our laws to come here illegally instead of waiting their turn or claiming asylum at any port of entry," the Attorney General said.
Nielsen countered critics who say detained children are being mistreated.
"It is important to note that these minors are very well taken care of - don't believe the press. They are very well taken care of, we know this because many of you have detention facilities of your own. We operate in some of the highest standards in the country. We provide food, medical, education, all needs that the child requests," she said. "Let's be honest, there are some that would like us to look the other way when dealing with families at the border and not enforce the law passed by members of Congress, including unfortunately some members of Congress."
Sessions defended the conditions under which they are being held as well.
"In total, when a child is brought here in that fashion or parents are prosecuted, the children are turned over within hours to the department of health and human services. They are not put in jail of course. They are taken care of," Sessions said.
And he again raised the prospect of family separation would be a deterrent.
"Because we send a message, a bad message to those crossing illegally if you bring children you can avoid prosecution and deportation," he said. Sessions went on to say that they didn't want to separate families but necessary to do. until the wall is built.
The "zero tolerance" policy, which Sessions introduced in April, calls for prosecution of any person who crosses the border illegally. The policy leads to separation of families along the southern border - with adults going to correctional facilities and children in the custody of HHS.
Sessions and Nielsen were met with protests outside the event, leading to five people being arrested by Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies.