Melania Trump ‘hates’ to see children separated from families at US border

The debate over the “zero tolerance” policy has escalated since it emerged that 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults in just six weeks as they tried to enter the US between official border crossings.

People have been detained and referred for criminal prosecution, but US rules state that children are not allowed to be held with their parents because they have not been charged with a crime.

Politicians and religious groups are among those to have criticised the “inhumane” policy, and the first lady – who last week returned to the public eye for the first time in almost a month – has admitted she has found it difficult to watch the events unfold.

Her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said Mrs Trump “hates to see children separated from their families” and believes the US should be a country that “governs with heart”.

But she added that “all laws” needed to be followed and called upon “both sides of the aisle” to “come together to achieve successful immigration reform”.

Husband and president Donald Trump has tried to blame Democrats for the situation, which humanitarian aid group the International Rescue Committee has described as “a policy of willing cruelty”.

Toddlers and babies are reportedly among those to have been separated from their parents, but the Department of Homeland Security has said the youngsters are well cared for and have disputed reports of mistreatment.

Mr Trump said on Twitter on Saturday that the “forced family breakup at the border” could be solved by Democrats “working with Republicans on new legislation”.

Despite that, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway has rejected suggestions Mr Trump is using the children as leverage to force his opponents to enter negotiations on immigration and his long-promised border wall.

The House is expected to vote on Wednesday on an immigration bill pushed by conservatives that may not have enough support to pass, but there is also a compromise measure that includes key proposals supported by the president.

He will meet with Republican colleagues on Tuesday to discuss both bills, which the White House has said he would be willing to sign.

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