WASHINGTON — President Trump remained resistant on Monday in the face of growing public outcry over his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border, repeating the false assertion that Democrats were the ones to blame for it, and suggesting that criminals — not parents — were toting juveniles to the United States.
“They could be murderers and thieves and so much else,” Mr. Trump said of the people crossing the border, as he delivered somewhat incongruous remarks during a meeting of the National Space Council on Monday. “We want a safe country, and it starts with the borders, and that’s the way it is.”
For several days, senior members of the administration, some declining to speak on the record, have used blame as a roundabout defense tactic for a policy that has seen nearly 2,000 children taken away from their parents in a six-week period and drawn condemnation from a chorus of Republican and Democratic critics.
Those critics have included a group of Democratic lawmakers, President Bill Clinton and Laura Bush, the last Republican first lady. The current first lady, Melania Trump, also weighed in, calling for “a country that governs with a heart.”
In a series of tweets and speeches on Monday, Mr. Trump instead relied on fear to curry support for a “zero tolerance” policy that refers for criminal prosecution all immigrants apprehended crossing the border without authorization. The president used the threat of gang violence and other crime, and a change in the fabric of American culture as a means to stoke support among supporters and push Congress into figuring out a way to drum up funding for his long-promised border wall.
“Children are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth as a means to enter our country,” he wrote. “Has anyone been looking at the Crime taking place south of the border. It is historic, with some countries the most dangerous places in the world. Not going to happen in the U.S.”
Mr. Trump repeated his running blame of Democratic policies — “CHANGE THE LAWS!” — despite the fact that no law requires families to necessarily be separated at the border.
Across the country, senior administration members echoed his message, equating a rise in border crossings with a rise in crime and suggesting that the people who were separated at the border were not families at all.