The Trump administration separated 1,995 children from 1,940 adults from April 19 to May 31, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said Friday.
That’s approximately 46 children per day, over a six-week period.
The administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which was announced by the Department of Justice in April, separates children from their parents or legal guardians because the adults have been referred to DHS for prosecution for illegal entry into the United States.
In a briefing with reporters on Friday, DHS officials complained of exaggerated and inaccurate reports about the policy, taking particular issue with a CNN report that a mother had her infant child taken from her arms while she was breastfeeding.
“We do not separate breastfeeding children from their parents. That does not exist, that’s not a policy, that’s not something that DHS does,” a DHS official said.
DHS officials also said they had “no choice” but to separate parents and children at the border.
Pressed on this claim, they said the only alternative option was to ignore the law, though previous administrations have used other methods to keep migrant families together while they wound their way through immigration court proceedings.
The officials could not say whether parents were allowed to say goodbye to their parents before they are separated. Some reports have said parents are told their children are being taken to a separate facility for a bath.
Separating parents from children was rare under the Obama administration and in the early part of the Trump administration, usually reserved only for cases where the safety of a child was in question. Nearly 1,800 immigrant families were separated over 17 months prior to February, according to a Reuters report.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has forcefully defended the policy, which has been criticized by Democrats, Republicans, Christian groups and medical doctors, who said Friday that the children separated from their parents could suffer permanent damage.
On Thursday, Sessions told a group of law enforcement officers that the migrant families were to blame for their own break-ups and that his department’s actions were not “unusual or unjustified.”
“If you cross the southwest border unlawfully, then the Department of Homeland Security will arrest you and the Department of Justice will prosecute you. That is what the law calls for — and that is what we are going to do,” Sessions said.
President Donald Trump lamented his administration’s policy Friday and blamed Democrats in Congress — a falsehood he and other members of his administration have advanced before.
“I hate children being taken away,” he told reporters on the White House lawn. “That’s the Democrats.”
This article originally appeared on https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/1-995-children-separated-families-border-under-zero-tolerance-policy-n883716