Donald Trump has said the US will not be a “migrant camp” as he defended controversial border-protection policies including forced separation of children from their parents.
The US leader said the country would not become a “refugee holding facility” as he compared the potential outcome of a policy shift to “what’s happening in Europe”.
His comments came after distressing images of children held in fenced cages emerged, fuelling a growing chorus of condemnation across the US and elsewhere
The children are being held separately from parents who are being prosecuted under the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings.
Responding to outrage on Monday, the president said: “The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility.
“You look at what’s happening in Europe, and in other places, we cannot allow that to happen. Not on my watch.”
Mr Trump said criminals were using children like a “Trojan horse” to enter America, and that people coming in were bringing “death and destruction.”
He added: “They are thieves and murderers and so much else,” and said that “a county without borders is not a country at all.”
The president said “it’s very strongly the Democrats’ fault” as his administration rejected criticism that the current policy has resulted in inhuman and immoral conditions.
Mr Trump pointed to more lenient policies under past administrations that had not charged all migrants who had crossed illegally.
“We will not apologise for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does, for doing the job that the American people expect us to do,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in an appearance before the National Sheriffs’ Association in New Orleans.
“Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get-out-of-jail-free cards.”
Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new “zero-tolerance” policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution.