U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his attacks Wednesday on the media and opposition Democrats for the way they are portraying his administration’s policy to split up migrant families as they illegally cross the southern U.S. border.
Trump contended that the mainstream U.S. news outlets are “not mentioning the safety and security of our country when talking about illegal immigration.” He claimed that U.S. immigration laws “are the weakest and worst anywhere in the world” and that Democrats “will do anything not to change them.”
”It’s the Democrats fault, they won’t give us the votes needed to pass good immigration legislation,” Trump said, ignoring that Republicans control both chambers of Congress. “They want open borders, which breeds horrible crime. Republicans want security. But I am working on something – it never ends!”
Trump’s latest broadside against two of his favorite targets came hours after he met with fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives, voicing support for a pair of immigration measures the chamber plans to vote on Thursday to overhaul U.S. immigration policies and curb the separation of children from their parents at U.S.-Mexican border.
“We can enforce our immigration laws without breaking families apart,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, the leader of the Republican majority in the chamber.
It is not clear, however, if either piece of legislation has enough support to win passage.
Trump and his top aides have come under withering attack from Republicans and Democrats alike, business groups and religious leaders for breaking up families at the border, sending more than 2,300 children to mass detention centers in the last two months while their parents are housed elsewhere and charged with illegally entering the country.
Trump has refused to rescind the policy, instead calling for Congress to act to end it, adopt more comprehensive immigration reforms and approve $25 billion in funding for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart further illegal migration.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Trump “endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb so-called ‘chain migration,’ and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal.”
Republican Congressman Mark Meadows said Trump told the lawmakers they need to get something done on immigration “right away.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday all 51 Republican senators in the 100-member Senate “support a plan that keeps families together,” adding he intends to ask Democrats to support the measure.
‘Tender age’ shelters
The Associated Press reported Tuesday the Trump administration has been sending babies and other young children separated from their parents at the border to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, and that the government plans to open another shelter to house hundreds of young migrants in Houston.
AP cited lawyers and medical providers who have visited the shelters, saying they described play rooms with crying preschool-age children in crisis.
The report also quotes an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying the agency has “specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children,” defined as youths under 13.
Trump, in a speech Tuesday to small-business owners in Washington, continued to stand defiant on the policy, saying that in order to prosecute illegal migrants in the United States, “you have to take the children away.”
Trump claimed there are only two options to deal with the situation: “totally open borders or criminal prosecution.” He said he wants Congress to provide him with a third option, to deport families as a unit.
“We have no border security,” Trump said, adding the smuggling of children and women is now “the worst it’s been in history.”
In a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, 57 percent of those surveyed opposed breaking up families at the border, 28 percent supported it and the other 15 percent said they did not know.
Trump administration officials have defended the policy. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pushed back at the negative media coverage in a Monday briefing, asserting that what U.S. authorities are doing is properly enforcing the law.
“What has changed is that we no longer exempt entire classes of people who break the law,” she said.
Late Tuesday, protesters interrupted Nielsen’s dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Washington with chants of “shame” and calling for her to end family separations and what they called “Texas concentration camps.”
“Kirstjen Nielsen you’re a villain locking up immigrant children,” they said.
Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America (MDCDSA) said it was behind the protest, and that it would continue to oppose family separations as well as deportation and detention of migrants.
Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton said Nielsen encourages all, including the group of protesters, “who want to see an immigration system that works,” contributes to the economy, protects security and “reflects our values.”
VOA’s Steve Herman contributed to this report.