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Trump Administration Defends Policy That Separates Parents And Children At The Border

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The White House is on the defensive today over separating children from their parents at the southwest border.

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KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing for our job. We have sworn to do this job.

CORNISH: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was the first this morning to defend the practice. She was in New Orleans addressing the National Sheriffs' Association.

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NIELSEN: This administration has a simple message. If you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the stage a few minutes later.

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JEFF SESSIONS: We do not want to separate parents from their children. You can be sure of that. If we build a wall, we pass some legislation, we close some loopholes, we won't face these terrible choices.

KELLY: And then President Trump weighed in from the White House.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're stuck with these horrible laws. They're horrible laws. What's happening is so sad, is so sad. And it can be taken care of quickly, beautifully, and we'll have safety.

CORNISH: And after Nielsen got back to D.C. this afternoon, she made more statements on this at the White House.

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NIELSEN: Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it. Until then, we will enforce every law we have on the books to defend the sovereignty and security of the United States.

CORNISH: These responses are coming after criticism of the policy escalated over the weekend, including protests near the border in Texas.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Family.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Unity.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Family.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Unity.

KELLY: No federal law requires the government to separate families. The administration wants to end what critics call catch-and-release. In the past, when parents were charged with immigration violations, they were released with their children and told to appear in court at a later date.

CORNISH: The Trump administration's zero tolerance policy aims to prosecute every person who crosses the border illegally in criminal court. The result - children are sent to shelters because they can't be detained with their parents in federal lockups. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.