U.S. President Donald Trump told a group of Republican lawmakers at a meeting Tuesday he backs a pair of their immigration bills under consideration in the House of Representatives.
The meeting came as criticism continued over the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents and other adults at the southern border with Mexico as they illegally enter the United States.
In his remarks to lawmakers, according to White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah, Trump "endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb so-called "chain migration," and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal."
WATCH: Trump Targets Immigration Law 'Loopholes'
Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said Trump told the lawmakers they need to get something done on immigration "right away."
House Homeland Security chairman Michael McCaul described the meeting with Trump as excellent, and confirmed that the president embraced the bill he and Congressman Bob Goodlatte are pushing.
"The president is a thousand percent behind it," McCaul said.
Asked whether the legislation would end the family separations, he responded, "They will not be separated if the bill passes," which he explained includes $18 billion for a border wall Trump desires.
The House is set to vote later in the week on the two bills. It is not clear that either piece of legislation has enough votes to win passage.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday "all of the members of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together," adding he intends to ask Democrats to support the measure.
In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday, 28 percent of people said they support the policy, while 57 percent opposed it and the other 15 percent said they did not know.
Trump administration officials have defended the policy. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pushed back at the negative media coverage in a Monday briefing, asserting that what U.S. authorities are doing is properly enforcing the law.
"What has changed is that we no longer exempt entire classes of people who break the law," she said.
WATCH: A push for Republican support
Late Tuesday, protesters interrupted Nielsen's dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Washington with chants of "shame" and calling for her to end family separations and what they called "Texas concentration camps."
"Kirstjen Nielsen you're a villain locking up immigrant children," they said.
Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America (MDCDSA) said it was behind the protest, and that it would continue to oppose family separations as well as deportation and detention of migrants.
DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton said Nielsen encourages all, including the group of protesters, "who want to see an immigration system that works," contributes to the economy, protects security and "reflects our values."
"While having a work dinner tonight, the Secretary and her staff heard from a small group of protestors who share her concern with our current immigration laws that have created a crisis on our southern border," Houlton said on Twitter.
MDCDSA shared his tweet with a mocking response.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday the Trump administration has been sending babies and other young children separate from their parents at the border to at least three "tender age" shelters in South Texas, and that the government plans to open another shelter to house hundreds of young migrants in Houston.
AP cited lawyers and medical providers who have visited the shelters describing play rooms with crying preschool-age children in crisis.
The report also quotes an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying the agency has "specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category."
Trump, in a speech Tuesday to small business owners in Washington, continued to stand defiant on the policy, saying that in order to prosecute illegal migrants in the United States "you have to take the children away."
Trump claimed there are only two options to deal with the situation: "totally open borders or criminal prosecution." He said he wants Congress to provide him with a third option to deport families as a unit.
"We have no border security," Trump said, adding the smuggling of children and women is now "the worst it's been in history."
Trump also accused the news media, through its reporting of the issue, of "helping the smugglers, these traffickers" who are exploiting legislative loopholes. He did not elaborate on his claim.
Trump made his remarks shortly after the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced its opposition to the administration's policy. The lobbying organization, which represents big businesses, typically supports Republican Party candidates.
"Thousands of children are being forcibly removed from their parents by our government. There is no other way to say it — this is not who we are, and it must end now," said chamber president Tom Donohue.
WATCH: 'We Want to Solve Family Separation'
Trump also questioned the need for thousands of additional judges to handle immigration cases.
"Who are these people?" he asked. "Can you imagine the graft that must take place?" The president said instead of more judges, he wants more border security. "I don't want to try people. I don't want people coming in," he declared.
Trump also again expressed disappointment with America's southern neighbor. "Mexico does nothing for us," charged Trump. "They could stop it."
Mexico weighed in just before Trump's speech, with a strong rebuke.
"In the name of the Mexican government and people, I want to express our most categorical and energetic condemnation of this cruel and inhuman policy," foreign minister Luis Videgaray said at a news conference.
To protest Trump's policy of breaking up families when they are detained, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland withdrew their respective state's small National Guard contingent from the border, where they had been assisting federal agents.
Another Republican governor, Massachusetts' Charlie Baker, dropped his offer the previous day to send troops to the border.