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(BBC) – US President Donald Trump has defended his policy of splitting up families entering the US illegally, defying a growing chorus of condemnation.
Speaking at a business convention, Mr Trump said children had to be taken away if their parents were jailed for illegally crossing the US border.
The president had earlier sparked outrage for tweeting that undocumented immigrants would “infest” the US.
Mexico’s foreign minister has called the US policy “cruel and inhuman”.
Mr Trump on Tuesday met Republican lawmakers to discuss a bill that proposes to curb the policy.
“I don’t want children taken away from parents,” Mr Trump said. “When you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally – which should happen – you have to take the children away.”
Mr Trump said he wanted to “end the border crisis” by giving border officials the resources to “detain and remove illegal immigrant families altogether”.
US immigration officials say 2,342 children have been separated from 2,206 parents from 5 May to 9 June amid a “zero-tolerance” crackdown on illegal immigration brought in by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Speaking on Monday evening, Mr Sessions rejected claims US holding centres for child migrants separated from their parents were like Nazi concentration camps.
“Well, it’s a real exaggeration, of course,” the Department of Justice chief told Fox News. “In Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country.”
He added: “Fundamentally, we are enforcing the law. Hopefully people will get the message and not break across the border unlawfully.”
Meanwhile, Mr Trump faced criticism for his choice of language on Tuesday after tweeting that immigrants threatened “to pour into and infest our Country”.
On Tuesday, the co-creator of the sitcom Modern Family said he would cut ties with Fox’s TV production studio because of Fox News’ rhetoric around the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
Both Fox News and Fox’s TV production studio are owned by 21st Century Fox, which is currently considering acquisition offers from US media conglomerates Disney and Comcast.
“I look forward to seeing Modern Family through to the end and then, sale or no sale, setting up shop elsewhere,” Steve Levitan said.
What are migrants’ countries of origin saying?
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso said on Tuesday that the separation of children from parents at the US border was “cruel and inhuman”, and clearly violated human rights.
The Salvadoran foreign ministry issued a statement on Monday saying the US policy was “exposing children to extremely adverse conditions”.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said: “Our position is that families should not be separated.”
Guatemala has refrained from criticising the US, saying only that it respects other nations’ migration policy.
What is the policy?
Under the “zero-tolerance” crackdown that the Trump administration rolled out in May, all border crossers – including first-time offenders – are criminally charged and jailed.
Migrant children are not permitted to be incarcerated with their parents, and are kept in separate facilities maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Under previous US administrations, undocumented immigrants caught crossing the border for the first time tended to be issued with court summonses.
But the Trump administration points out that most of those migrants never showed up for court.
The Trump administration has been disputing the terminology used to describe its immigration crackdown.
The Department of Homeland Security has framed it as an “initiative” rather than “a policy”.
It describes the holding centres where children have been pictured behind metal chain-link enclosures with concrete floors as “shelters” instead of “cages”.
A lawyer defending the detained immigrants tells the Boston Globe that several of her clients had been told by Border Patrol agents that their children were being taken to be bathed – a tactic that has drawn further comparisons to the Holocaust.
As the hours passed the mothers began to realise their children were not going to be immediately returned, according to lawyer Azalea Aleman-Bendiks.
What are Trump and lawmakers doing?
On Tuesday afternoon, the Republican president went to Congress, which is controlled by members of his party. He met with senior Republicans for an hour.
The House of Representatives is preparing this week to vote on a moderate immigration bill.
The compromise measure would limit, but not outright ban family separations. It would also offer an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented adult immigrants, known as Dreamers, who entered the US as children.
The Republican legislation would also provide $25bn (£19bn) in funding for border security, including Mr Trump’s planned US-Mexico wall.
The White House says Mr Trump supports the package.
A hardline conservative immigration bill is also in circulation, though it lacks enough support to be politically viable.
Meanwhile, 21 Democratic state prosecutors demanded on Tuesday that the Department of Justice end the “zero tolerance” policy, arguing it “is ignoring its legal and moral obligation for the sake of a political agenda at the expense of children”.
“Put simply, the deliberate separation of children and their parents who seek lawful asylum in America is wrong,” the letter from the attorneys general reads, adding that the practice is “contrary to American values”.
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