All five living first ladies condemn USA separation policy

Win McNamee  Getty Images North America

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday tried defending the administration's policy of breaking up immigrant families at the border. That policy says that any adult who enters the US illegally is to be prosecuted criminally.

President Donald Trump repeated a false claim in a tweet Saturday that blames Democrats for the policy of separating immigrant parents from their children upon crossing the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico.

While Melania Trump's admonition was oblique and understated, former First Lady Laura Bush lit into the Trump administration, calling it's zero-tolerance policy cruel and immoral. And it breaks my heart. "She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart", her spokeswoman said in a statement.

Under the policy, Central and South Americans who were detained after crossing the border illegally were released into the United States on a promise to appear at an immigration hearing, typically months later. 10,000 of those now in custody were sent by their parents with strangers to undertake a completely risky and deadly travel alone. In Texas, several Democratic members of Congress said at a news conference that they had toured one US detention center and encountered children under the age of one who they were told had been in government custody for more than a month. From April 19 to May 31, 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults, according to Homeland Security statistics obtained by The Associated Press.

The former first lady zeroed in on Trump's repeated false claims that legislation passed by Democrats is to blame for the policy his administration is enforcing.

"If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you", Mr Sessions said.

Nielsen said she had not heard the controversial audio first published by ProPublica that made rounds on Monday, purportedly captured at a immigration detention center last week.

And in tweets about immigration over the weekend he brought up everything from the violent MS-13 gang to European immigration problems to crime in Latin American countries.

Donald Trump has previously blamed a law that "Deomcrats gave us" for the detentions, but it remains unclear which law he means.

"If the Democrats would sit down instead of obstructing, we could have something done very quickly".

Even though the statements suggest that the matter is an issue for Congress, Democratic lawmakers and others have pointed out that no law mandates the separation of children and parents at the border.

"We are a better country than one that tears families apart", she said. "Sometimes in our lives, in our country, in our history, people who have a high profile and an opportunity to speak out do so", she said. Her at-times contradictory responses, The Washington Post says, "offered evidence that the administration - and perhaps Nielsen herself - was still struggling to formulate a message to counter critics who have accused the Trump White House of creating a humanitarian disaster".

Lawmakers have traveled to South Texas where hundreds of children separated from their parents are being held to speak out against the zero-tolerance policy.

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