U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen are defending the contentious “zero-tolerance” immigration policy amid rising bipartisan opposition — as new pictures of children fenced into detention facilities emerge.
The pictures, which were released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, show children sitting in cages behind fences and lying on mats on the floor in a McAllen, Texas facility.
The Associated Press reported that over 1,100 people were in the cages — more than 200 of them children — and that there were no toys or books.
Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told AP she also saw officials at the facility scold a group of 5-year-olds for playing around in their cage, telling them to settle down.
WATCH: Moral reckoning over separating families at border
Both Sessions and Nielsen say the process of pulling children away from parents who are awaiting prosecution for illegal immigration into the U.S. is within the law.
The policy — which separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents in six weeks — has seen widespread condemnation from both sides of the political spectrum; even First Lady Melania Trump has said she “hates” seeing families separated.
Asked if the policy was akin to child abuse at the White House press conference Monday, Nielsen dodged the question, saying the children are given education, health care and are fed.
Despite the fact that the policy was announced by his cabinet, President Donald Trump has laid the blame on the Democrats, saying “it’s very strongly the Democrats’ fault.”
He said Monday that the U.S. wouldn’t be a “migrant camp” or “refugee holding facility” on his watch.
WATCH: Homeland Security Secretary dodges questions when asked if policy is akin to child abuse
The American people are opposed to the practice, according to a CNN poll.
The poll, conducted by SSRS, say two-thirds of respondents disapprove. But when you isolate Republican respondents, the approval numbers jump — with more than half of those polled approving the practice.
The Trump loyalists defended the policy while addressing in New Orleans at the National Sheriff’s Association conference earlier Monday.
WATCH: Trump says U.S. will not be a ‘migrant camp’
“Let’s be honest: there are some who would like us to look the other way when dealing with families at the border and not enforce the law passed by Congress — including, unfortunately, some members of Congress. Past administrations may have done so, but we will not,” Nielsen said.
“We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job. We have sworn to do this job.”
Sessions echoed her comments.
“The American people are generous [and they] want our laws enforced. That is what we intend to do, and we ask Congress to be partners in this effort. It is critically important that they help us at this critical time,” he said.
Sessions also called the act of separating children and parents a “terrible choice,” while urging U.S. lawmakers to pass legislation to close loopholes.
“We do not want to separate parents from their children; you can be sure of that,” he said.
WATCH: ‘We will not apologize’: Homeland Security Secretary defends U.S. immigration policy
“If we build a wall, if we pass some legislation, if we close some loopholes, we won’t face these terrible choices. The numbers will end. We will have a system where those who need to apply for asylum can do so, and those who want to come this country will apply to enter lawfully.”
The policy has drawn condemnation from medical professionals, religious leaders and immigration activists, calling the separation cruel and un-American, as well as warning that some children could suffer lasting psychological trauma.
There are many reports that children are being taken from mothers, and that distraught toddlers and elementary school-age children are asking, through tears, when they can see their parents.
Nielsen defended the U.S. detention centres, saying the children were “well taken care of.”
WATCH: Jeff Sessions: ‘Generous’ laws deter migrants with kids from entering U.S. illegally
“It is important to note that these minors are very well taken care of. Don’t believe the press; they are very well taken care of,” she said. “We operate according to some of the highest standards in the country. We provide food, medical, education and all needs that the child requests.”
*with files from Katie Dangerfield the Associated Press
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