WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Monday defended its hardline immigration policy at the US-Mexico border as furor grew over the separation of immigrant parents and children, including video of youngsters sitting in concrete-floored cages.
Democrats blasted such treatment as “barbaric,” while a few of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans also voiced concern as the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives moved toward voting later this week on two pieces of immigration-related legislation.
The outcry over the detained children resulted from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which provides for the arrest of all adults caught trying to enter the United States illegally, including those seeking asylum.
While parents are held in jail, their children are sent to separate detention facilities, some in remote locations. Video footage released by the government showed migrant children held in wire cages, sitting on concrete floors.
An audio recording said to capture the sounds of immigrant children crying in a detention facility was circulating online. Reuters could not independently verify its authenticity.
Trump administration officials say the zero-tolerance policy, which was not practiced by the two previous presidents, is needed to secure the border and deter illegal immigration.
But Democrats and some Republicans have admonished the administration for dividing nearly 2,000 children from their parents between mid-April and the end of May.
After visiting an immigration detention center in San Diego, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said: “Our message to Mr. Trump is, stop this inhumane, barbaric policy.”
Seattle-based software company Microsoft Corp, one of America’s largest businesses, said in a statement it was “dismayed” by the situation.
“We urge the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families,” it said.
Trump, whose promise to crack down on illegal immigration was a major theme of his 2016 campaign and one he has carried into his presidency, responded sharply to critics on Monday.
At the White House, he said: “The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility. It won’t be.”
Trump has sought to use the widespread outrage over the family separations to push through other immigration priorities that have stalled in Congress, such as funding for his long-promised wall along the Mexican border.
He has blamed Democrats for the impasse, even though his fellow Republicans control both chambers of Congress.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who ran unsuccessfully against Trump in 2016 for their party’s presidential nomination, said he would introduce legislation this week to halt family separations.