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Trump defends family separation policy: US 'will not be a migrant camp'

A defiant President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Gillum and DeSantis’s first debate GOP warns economy will tank if Dems win Gorbachev calls Trump's withdrawal from arms treaty 'a mistake' MORE on Monday defended his administration’s policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the southern border, saying the nation must not become a “camp” for migrants.

“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility — it won’t be,” Trump said at the White House during a meeting for his space council.

“Not on my watch,” he added.

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Trump again blamed Democrats for the problem, though the separations are a result of a directive issued by his own administration earlier this year.

“I say it’s very strongly the Democrats' fault,” he said Monday.

"If the Democrats would sit down instead of obstructing, we could have something done very quickly,” Trump added later. “Good for the children, good for the country, good for the world.”

The remarks come as Trump is facing mounting pressure to change the policy, which his administration implemented in an effort to deter illegal immigration.

The Department of Homeland Security says nearly 2,000 minors have been separated from their adult guardians in the six weeks following the administration's announcement of a "zero tolerance policy" against illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The separations have triggered a nationwide outcry from Republicans and Democrats who say they are inhumane, and Trump and his top aides have struggled to explain the policy.

Trump earlier Monday doubled down on the controversial policy in a string of tweets while calling on Congress to change laws to end the policy, a sign he is unmoved by the criticism.

In his remarks later in the day, the president sought to justify his efforts to ramp up immigration enforcement by claiming “murderers” and “thieves” who are illegally entering the U.S. are bringing “death and destruction.” 

He also suggested his hands are tied when it comes to addressing the child separation issue.

“We could have an immigration bill, we could have child separation — we’re stuck with these horrible laws,” he said. "They’re horrible laws. What’s happening is so sad, so sad. And it can be taken care of quickly, beautifully and we’ll have safety.”

Trump is trying to pressure Democrats in the House into working with their Republican counterparts to pass an immigration bill. But the two measures drafted by GOP lawmakers, one of which deals with child separation, also face internal opposition.

The president is scheduled to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss the immigration issue, a meeting in which he could hear criticism of his administration’s handling of the issue.

The child separations stem from the Justice Department’s decision in April to prosecute illegal border crossers to the fullest extent of the law.

That has resulted in a drastic uptick in people who are being jailed as they await trial, and as a result, have their children taken away from them and placed in detention centers.

Trump administration officials have offered up often-contradictory explanations for the separations, frustrating critics and supporters alike.

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBeto O'Rourke on impeachment: 'There is enough there to proceed' Rosenstein to appear for House interview next week Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure MORE on Monday told a gathering of sheriffs that “we do not want to separate parents from their children,” but a legislative fix is needed.

“If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices,” he said.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenEx-lawmaker urges Americans to publicly confront officials Migrant caravan expands to 5000 DHS to 'closely monitor' caravan of migrants headed for US border MORE also defended the policy, saying “we will not apologize for doing our job.”

Her comments, however, came one day after she faced criticism for tweeting her department does “not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”

A wide variety of public figures have called on Trump to end child separation, including former first lady Laura Bush, who seldom weighs in on policy issues.

"I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart," Bush wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

— This report was updated at 1:25 p.m.