WASHINGTON DC (BBC)- President Donald Trump has said he will not allow the US to become a “migrant camp”, as he stood by his administration’s immigration crackdown.
“The United States will not be a migrant camp,” he said at the White House. “And it will not be a refugee-holding facility – it won’t be.”
Photos over the weekend showed undocumented children being held in fenced enclosures at a Texas facility.
The UN human rights chief has condemned the policy as “unconscionable”.
Mr Trump said on Monday: “You look at what’s happening in Europe, you look at what’s happening in other places.
“We cannot allow that to happen to the United States. Not on my watch.”
Earlier, he said European countries had made a big mistake by allowing in millions of migrants.
Mr Trump criticised Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in particular, saying her people were turning against their leaders because of the issue.
Mrs Merkel is in a migration dispute with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, who wants to refuse migrants if they have already registered for asylum elsewhere in the EU.
The Republican president blamed Democrats for not coming to the table to negotiate immigration legislation.
What’s the policy?
Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents at the border between mid-April and the end of May.
The administration’s “zero tolerance” policy entails criminally charging those entering the US illegally, including asylum seekers.
This has led to parents being separated from their children, who are not charged with a crime.
As a result, hundreds of children are being housed in detention centres, including warehouses and converted supermarkets.
Some shelters and foster homes have said they are running out of space.
On Sunday, Father’s Day, Democratic lawmakers visited shelters and processing facilities in New Jersey and Texas, demanding to see detainees.
Officials have also announced plans to erect tent cities that will hold hundreds more children in the Texas desert where temperatures regularly reach 40C (105F).
Who’s criticising it?
Democrats and some in Mr Trump’s own Republican Party have strongly condemned the administration.
The crackdown has even provoked fierce criticism from the president’s wife, Melania Trump, who said over the weekend she “hates to see children separated from families”.
Former First Lady Laura Bush meanwhile wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the tactics were “immoral” and evoked Japanese-American internment camps during the Second World War.
Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said Mr Trump’s widely debunked claims that the family separations were mandated by law was “an outright lie”.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, cited the “inhumane” policy on Monday as he reversed his decision to contribute National Guard resources to the southern US border to help enforce border security.
Most congressional Republicans, however, have declined to criticise Mr Trump over the policy.
A conservative commentator, Ann Coulter, claimed young people pictured crying at the border after being separated from parents were “child actors”.
“Do not fall for it, Mr President,” Ms Coulter said on Fox News.
What does the Trump administration say?
US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen faced reporters at the White House on Monday, just hours after telling Americans not to believe media reports about child migrants.
She defended the “zero-tolerance” policy, arguing that the government was simply following the law and it would be up to Congress to change it.
“This administration did not create a policy of separating families… what has changed is that we no longer exempt entire classes of people who break the law,” she said.
During the heated briefing, Ms Nielsen also insisted that migrants who attempt to cross the US border are putting their children in an unsafe situation.
“By entering our country illegally, often in dangerous circumstances, illegal immigrants have put their children at risk,” she said.
Ms Nielsen was widely criticised on Sunday when she tweeted that her department does “not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”