Trump blames Democrats for his policy of separating families at border

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's administration is implementing a new policy that will separate more children from their parents at the border, despite the president falsely blaming Democrats and an unspecified "horrible law" for their decision.

The administration confirmed this month that breaking up families was a byproduct of their new "zero tolerance" plan to prosecute everyone who crosses the border illegally, which would require minors who traveled with their family to be taken into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the previous policy, children were usually allowed to stay with their parents in shelters while awaiting legal proceedings.

"If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier this month at an event in Arizona announcing the move. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border."

Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, defended separating families in an NPR interview this month as "a tough deterrent" against illegal immigration after an uptick in border crossings by Central American nationals.

RELATED: Trump's prototypes 

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President Donald Trump's border wall prototypes
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President Donald Trump's border wall prototypes
A border patrol officer stands next to some of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes as they near completion along U.S.- Mexico border in San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Federal agents patrol next to U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes as they near completion along U.S.- Mexico border in San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
One of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes is pictured along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Seven of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
One of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes is pictured along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Two of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are shown near completion behind the current border fence, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Three of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border in San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is shown in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are shown near completion in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People (R) work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are seen behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are seen behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
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"The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever," Kelly said.

The changes prompted widespread coverage of the policy and an outcry from human rights groups, which noted many families crossing the border were seeking asylum after fleeing violence in their home countries.

But even as his own top official defended the change, Trump tweeted Saturday that the administration's policy was actually due to a "horrible law" enacted by Democrats and urged Americans to build "pressure" to fix it. He had previously blamed family separations on "the bad laws that the Democrats gave us."

In a follow-up statement on Monday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley referred more generally to "open border policies" that were "encouraging mass immigration" rather than a specific law that caused children to be separated.

The Associated Press noted in a fact check that the administration had previously criticized a 2008 law requiring children traveling alone at the border to be released in the "least restrictive setting" while their cases are processed. But the law does not proscribe removing children from parents and it was signed by President George W. Bush with unanimous support in Congress as part of an effort to combat human trafficking.

Trump's tweet was the latest in a long line of false claims and conspiracy theories about immigration that the president has promoted over the course of his campaign and White House tenure. Past examples include falsely accusing Mexico of forcing criminals to cross the border, badly mischaracterizing America's visa lottery program, and accusing millions of immigrants of voting illegally, a claim that has been resoundingly debunked by Republican and Democratic election officials alike.

RELATED: Border patrol agents 

23 PHOTOS
President Donald Trump's border wall prototypes
See Gallery
President Donald Trump's border wall prototypes
A border patrol officer stands next to some of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes as they near completion along U.S.- Mexico border in San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Federal agents patrol next to U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes as they near completion along U.S.- Mexico border in San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
One of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes is pictured along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Seven of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
One of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes is pictured along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Two of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are shown near completion behind the current border fence, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Three of U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border in San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is shown in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are shown near completion in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People (R) work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
People work in San Diego, California, U.S., at the construction site of prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are seen behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico are seen behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico is seen in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
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