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

A defiant President TrumpDonald John TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll 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 SessionsThe Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump Trump frustrated with aides who talked to Mueller 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 NielsenOvernight Energy: Mueller report reveals Russian efforts to sow division over coal jobs | NYC passes sweeping climate bill likened to 'Green New Deal' | EPA official says agency may ban asbestos | Energy Dept. denies Perry planning exit The Hill's 12:30 Report: Inside the Mueller report Energy Dept denies report that Rick Perry is planning to leave Trump admin 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.