'We will not apologize': Trump DHS chief defends immigration policy

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"These children have been traumatized on their trip up to the border, and the first thing that happens is we take away the one constant in their life that helps them buffer all these disgusting experiences", Kraft said on CNN Monday.

Almost 2,000 children were separated from adults at the US-Mexico border, officials say.

Leading Democrats from California called for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign on Monday, citing the department's controversial practice of separating immigrant families caught trying to cross the southern border. Trump has derided that practice as "catch and release", arguing that numerous immigrants never appear for court proceedings. "It is immoral. And it breaks my heart".

She denied accounts that the policy amounted to "child abuse" or was comparable to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two.

The DHS policy triggered a lawsuit in February; almost a year earlier, members of the Trump administration had floated the idea of separating families as a potential deterrent. Officials also acknowledge that the number may be even higher. Under the "zero tolerance" policy, adults suspected of crossing the border illegally are sent to federal jails or other detention centers to await prosecution.

The backlash against the tactic grew into a protest march on Sunday, with hundreds of people heading to a tent city in Tornillo, Texas, where children have been detained near El Paso.

Moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Jeff Flake demanded answers about the treatment of migrant families in a Saturday letter to the DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The White House press corps was extremely skeptical of Nielsen's assertions, repeatedly asking why the president doesn't reverse the zero tolerance policy that has caused the separation. "This is about moms and dads imagining their children being taken from them". Nielsen says agents are not acting cruelly, but are enforcing the laws passed by Congress.

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The first lady issued a statement on Sunday through spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham: "Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. Period", Nielsen tweeted late Sunday.

Immigration advocates and Democrats say the administration has made it exceedingly hard to claim asylum at official ports of entry.

Several prominent Democrats spent Father's Day crisscrossing the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to meet with US border authorities and tour detention centers for apprehended children, including a former Walmart Inc. store that's been converted into a shelter for nearly 1,500 immigrant boys.

"Be more specific, please", Nielsen said. "Surely it is the beginning of the unraveling of democracy when the body who makes the laws, rather than changing them, asks the body who enforces the laws not to enforce the laws".

Trump has sought to blame Democrats, saying their support for passage of a broader immigration bill would end the separations.

While it's mostly been Democrats reacting to Nielsen's statement, some Republicans, including former First Lady Laura Bush, have publicly opposed the Trump administration's policy.

So I want to be clear on a couple of other things.

"There's different elements of the government that don't understand what's really going on". And court rulings eventually required the administration to end some of the extended detentions of parents and children.