WASHINGTON — While President Trump remained resistant Monday in the face of a growing public outcry, Republicans joined Democrats in demanding that the administration halt its policy of separating immigrant families at the border.
Republican US Representative Fred Upton of Michigan called for an immediate end to this ‘‘ugly and inhumane practice . . . It’s never acceptable to use kids as bargaining chips in political process.”
Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said he is ‘‘against using parental separation as a deterrent to illegal immigration.’’
Critics of the separation policy include former president Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton; and former first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama.
Bill Clinton suggested that Trump was using the widely condemned practice to leverage Democrats into accepting immigration limits in legislation they would otherwise oppose.
“These children should not be a negotiating tool,” he wrote on Twitter. “And reuniting them with their families would reaffirm America’s belief in and support for all parents who love their children.”
Hillary Clinton retweeted that message, adding, “Yes!”
Carter, whose husband, Jimmy Carter, served as president from 1977 to 1981, called the policy ‘‘disgraceful and a shame to our country.’’
She said that while she was in the White House, she tried to call attention to the plight of refugees fleeing Cambodia for Thailand, and saw ‘‘the trauma of parents and children separated by circumstances beyond their control’’ when she visited Thailand.
Laura Bush, the wife of former president George W. Bush, condemned the policy in a Sunday guest column for the Washington Post.
In a rare foray into domestic politics, Bush compared it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. “I live in a border state,” she wrote. “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
In a Twitter message Monday, Michelle Obama retweeted Bush’s message, adding: ‘‘Sometimes truth transcends party.’’
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.
White House officials have privately embraced the separation policy as a negotiating tactic to win Democratic votes for a border wall and tighter immigration laws.
Sessions, on Monday, echoed the administration’s defense of the policy and called on Congress to act.
‘‘We do not want to separate parents from their children,’’ he said. ‘‘If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices.’’
One House GOP aide said language curbing the taking of immigrant children from parents held in custody will be added to the House’s conservative immigration bill.
A similar provision is already in a compromise GOP immigration measure crafted by party conservatives and moderates, with the House expected to vote on both later this week.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen rejected criticism accusing her department of inhumane and immoral actions.
‘‘We will not apologize for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does for doing the job that the American people expect us to do,’’ she said in an appearance before the National Sheriffs’ Association in New Orleans. ‘‘Illegal actions have and must have consequences.’’
Yet, the criticisms have continued to intensify. The first lady, Melania Trump, weighed in Sunday, calling for “a country that governs with a heart.”
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, condemned the separations Sunday, except in cases where there is evidence of abuse or another good reason. “What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that, if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” she said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “That is traumatizing to the children, who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country.”
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said Republicans have a moral responsibility to end the policy. She said separating children from their parents is ‘‘an utter atrocity that debases America’s values and our legacy as a beacon of hope, opportunity and freedom.’’
Even as voices of outrage and condemnation grew louder and more diverse, President Trump’s commitment to the current policy showed no sign of faltering. But he scheduled a meeting Tuesday with GOP leaders of Congress to talk about how to resolve the issue.