June 18 (UPI) — Amid growing public backlash for separating migrant parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Trump administration said it has no such policy.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said previously the Justice Department will prosecute all adults who attempt to cross into the United States unlawfully — a policy that would, in some cases, result in families being separated.
Immigration officials said last week they separated 2,000 children from their parents during immigration enforcement in April and May.
Last week, President Donald Trump blamed the actions on Democrats and Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen said Sunday there’s no policy to separate migrant family members.
“This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive,” she tweeted. “As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry.”
Nielsen said her department has a duty to protect children from gangs, traffickers, criminals and abusers — and that those concerns sometimes warrant a separation.
“For those seeking asylum at ports of entry, we have continued the policy from previous Administrations and will only separate if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between ‘family’ members, or if the adult has broken a law,” Nielsen added in a separate tweet.
“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border, Period.”
Nielsen’s comments come as the White House faces growing bipartisan criticism over the issue.
Former first lady Laura Bush wrote Sunday in The Washington Post the policy is heartbreaking and invokes bad memories from World War II.
“Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso,” she wrote. “These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II.”
“In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis? I, for one, believe we can.”
Earlier Sunday, first lady Melania Trump said she “hates” seeing children separated from their families — signaling a break from her husband’s policy — and called on a bipartisan solution to end the practice.
“She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart,” Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady’s office, said.
The president tweeted last week that Democrats were “forcing the breakup of families at the border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.” Sunday, he urged Democrats to work with Republicans on the matter.