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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this June 9, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the G-7 summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump defended his administration's border-protection policies Monday in the face of rising anger over the forced separation of migrant children from their parents. Calling for tough action against illegal immigration, Trump declared the U.S. "will not be a migrant camp" on his watch.

Images of children held in fenced cages fueled a growing chorus of condemnation from both political parties, four former first ladies and national evangelical leaders. The children are being held separately from parents who are being prosecuted under the administration's "zero-tolerance" policy for illegal border crossings.

"I say it's very strongly the Democrats' fault," Trump said Monday as his administration rejected criticism that the policy has resulted in inhuman and immoral conditions.

Trump pointed to more lenient policies under past administrations that had not charged all migrants who had crossed illegally.

"We will not apologize for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does, for doing the job that the American people expect us to do," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in an appearance before the National Sheriffs' Association in New Orleans. "Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get out of jail free cards."

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new "zero-tolerance" policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. Previous procedure had limited prosecution for many family entrants, in part because regulations prohibit detaining children with their parents since the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

The policy change was meant to deter unlawful crossings — and Sessions issued a warning last month to those entering the U.S. illegally that their children "inevitably for a period of time might be in different conditions."

The current holding areas have drawn widespread attention after journalists gained access to one site Sunday. At a McAllen, Texas, detention center hundreds of immigrant children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets.

Administration officials said they do not like the family separations either — calling it the result of legal loopholes — but insist migrants who arrive illegally simply won't be released or loosely kept track of.

"The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility," Trump declared. "Not on my watch."

Sessions, on Monday, echoed the administration's defense of the zero tolerance policy, and called on Congress to act.

"We do not want to separate parents from their children," he said. "If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won't face these terrible choices."

Lawmakers in both parties rushed Monday to devise a targeted legislative fix.

GOP senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine, said they were considering legislation that would keep migrant families together; provide additional judges so detained families would face shorter waiting periods; and provide facilities for the families to stay.

Graham said he talked Monday to about 40 senators, including Democrats, but not Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she had the backing of the Democratic caucus for a bill would that prohibit the separation of migrant children from their parents, with exceptions for findings of child abuse or trafficking.

But the White House signaled it would oppose any narrow fix aimed solely at addressing the plight of children separated from their parents under the immigration crackdown. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump's priorities, like funding a border wall and tightening immigration laws, must also be fulfilled as part of any legislation.

"We want to fix the whole thing," she said. "We don't want to tinker with just part of it."

The national debate over the family separation policy comes as Republican lawmakers are growing ever more concerned about negative effects on their re-election campaigns this fall. Trump is to travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a strategy session on upcoming immigration legislation.

Language curbing the taking of immigrant children from parents held in custody will be added to the House's conservative immigration bill, a House GOP aide said Monday, A similar provision is already in a compromise GOP immigration measure between party conservatives and moderates, with the House expected to vote on both late this week.

The administration is hoping to force Democrats to vote for the bills or bear some of the political cost in November's midterm elections.

White House officials have privately embraced the border policy as a negotiating tactic to win votes for legislation to fulfill the president's pledge to build a border wall and to tighten the nation's immigration laws.

In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker reversed a decision to send a state National Guard helicopter to the southern border, citing what he called the administration's "cruel and inhumane" policy of separating children from their parents.

The Rev. Franklin Graham, a longtime Trump ally, called the policy "disgraceful." Several religious groups, including some conservative ones, have pushed to stop the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents. The Mormon church said it was "deeply troubled" by the separation of families and urged national leaders to find compassionate solutions.

Former first lady Laura Bush called the policy "cruel" and "immoral," and said it was "eerily reminiscent" of the U.S. internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.

Speaking at an awards lunch for the Women's Forum of New York on Monday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Clinton said what was happening to families at the U.S.-Mexico border is "horrific."

"Every human being with a sense of compassion and decency should be outraged," Clinton said.

Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, said she had warned during the campaign that Trump's hard-line immigration stance would result in family separations.

"Now as we watch with broken hearts, that's exactly what's happening," she said.

Read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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  • hah406
    June 18, 2018 at 12:05 p.m.

    When Cardinal Dolan and Franklin Graham are both on your case about something, you have screwed it up. Zero tolerance policies don't work for anything, be it drugs, fighting in school, or illegal immigration. There is a thing called prosecutorial discretion. Sessions and Trump need to start employing it again.

  • Illinoisroy
    June 18, 2018 at 12:20 p.m.

    I believe we had a bipartisan Immigration Bill that our King rejected because it didn't have enough funding for his wall.

  • LRCrookAttorney
    June 18, 2018 at 1:10 p.m.

    I believe that every king prior to Trump rejected many a bill that did not include or exclude something they specifically wanted.

  • Packman
    June 18, 2018 at 1:38 p.m.

    Thank you President Trump! DO NOT cave in to the selective outrage from broken libs.
    Years of feckless leadership from Obama and Bush on immigration reform has created this mess and it will take adults in the room making hard decisions to fix. The idea that law-breaking parents aren't separated from their children is nonsense. To the contrary, it's standard operating procedure within our criminal justice system.
    The selective outrage is no more than unhinged, broken libs seeing another opportunity to hate President Trump. Let them hate. Normal people understand a country without borders is not a country at all.

  • DoubleBlind
    June 18, 2018 at 1:39 p.m.

    FLOTUS Melanie is an illegal alien WHORE who came here to spawn on a bogus visa via a program her sex pest husband now wants to eliminate. Let’s ‘rip’ her spawn Barron from her and put him in a cage and she in a cell and see how everyone likes it.

  • DoubleBlind
    June 18, 2018 at 1:40 p.m.

    I didn’t mean ‘cage.’ Fox News is calling them ‘pens’ because that’s somehow preferable.

  • LRCrookAttorney
    June 18, 2018 at 1:49 p.m.

    DB...throw the bait out and "no bite," try again on another article, and "no bite!" Keep trying, maybe someone will bite if you keep trying.

  • DoubleBlind
    June 18, 2018 at 2 p.m.

    It’s not ‘bait’, LRAC. It’s ‘facts.’ Look it up.

  • DoubleBlind
    June 18, 2018 at 3:40 p.m.

    Come to think of it, 4 of Trump’s 5 kiddo’s are anchor babies from his 2 illegal immigrant wives. Wow. Contemplate that, Trumptards. Again: Not bait - just facts.

  • Packman
    June 18, 2018 at 4:22 p.m.

    "FLOTUS Melanie is an illegal alien WHORE...." Well, nobody seems to be unhinged around here............
    DoubleBlind is Exhibit A that Hillary's loss broke people on a fundamental level. Are you libs ashamed yet?