Washington - First lady Melania Trump "hates" to see families separated at the border and hopes "both sides of the aisle" can reform the nation's immigration laws, according to a statement from her office Sunday about the controversy.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Mrs Trump, said: "She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart." She said Mrs Trump "hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform."
While the statement suggested the matter was an issue for Congress, Democratic lawmakers and others have pointed out that no law mandates the separation of children and parents at the border. A new Trump administration policy, which went into effect in May, sought to maximize criminal prosecutions of people caught trying to enter the US illegally. More adults were being jailed as a result, which led to their children being separated from them.
A former first lady, Laura Bush, joined the debate, calling the separation policy "cruel" and "immoral" and said "it breaks my heart." She compared the separation of the children to the internment camps for Japanese-Americans in World War II.
"The reason for these separations is a zero-tolerance policy for their parents, who are accused of illegally crossing our borders," Mrs Bush said in a column in The Washington Post. "I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel," she wrote. She said "the US government "should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso."
For both, it was an unusual entry into a fierce political debate.
Mrs Trump didn't refer specifically to the Trump administration's "no tolerance" policy, which was leading to a spike in children being separated from their families. Government statistics indicate that nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May. Mrs Trump's spokeswoman issued the statement after several days of images of crying children appearing on television and online.
President Trump said Friday, "I hate the children being taken away," but he also falsely blamed Democrats for a law requiring it.
In an effort to rebut criticism of the administration, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Sunday repeated in a tweet the department's view: "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period." In a separate tweet, she accused the news media and others of misreporting the issue and called on those seeking asylum to do so at ports of entry rather than crossing illegally.