Republicans turn on Trump's separation of migrant children at border, as White House scrambles to defend policy

Staff Reporter

Leading Republicans have admitted they are outraged by Donald Trump’s migrant family separation policy, as the White House continues to defend a scheme which has seen 2,000 children taken from their parents and thrown in what appear to be holding cages at the Mexican border.

Senator Lindsey Graham said the president could stop the misery “with a phone call”.

Speaking on CNN, he appeared to challenge Mr Trump’s moral authority: “If you don't like families being separated, you can go tell DHS [Department of Homeland Security] stop doing it.”

Senators John McCain, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins and James Lankford also spoke out as fury continues to grow across the US.

Former presidential candidate Mr McCain tweeted to say the policy was “an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded.”

Mr Sasse was blunter. “Family separation is wicked & needs to be stopped,” he said in an online statement.

But today, the White House appeared ready to come out fighting in defence of the “zero tolerance” policy.

Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of homeland security, has been flown from New Orleans to Washington to face down criticism.

Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of homeland security (Reuters)

On Monday, she effectively blamed immigrant parents attempting to cross into the US illegally for the crisis.

“This administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border [but] …parents who entered illegally are by definition criminals,” she said.

“By entering our country illegally, often in dangerous circumstances, illegal immigrants have put their children at risk.”

She added: “Here is the bottom line: DHS is no longer ignoring the law. We are enforcing the laws as they exist on the books.”

Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen, Texas (US Customs and Border Protection)

During the West Wing briefing, she appeared to ignore a reporter who played an audio recording of Central American children, who had been separated from their parents, crying.

One could be heard saying: “I don’t want them to stop my father, I don’t want them to deport him.”

A border agent jokes: “Well, we have an orchestra here, right? What we’re missing is a conductor.”

Some 2,000 children have been taken from their parents or guardians in just six weeks as families attempt to illegally cross into the US from Mexico.

Under instruction from the White House, adults are taken for criminal prosecution, while under-18s are detained in holding facilities.

Pictures of one such Texas centre emerged over the weekend showing dozens of youngsters kept in wire cages. In Mexico, it was nicknamed La Perrera – the dog kennel.