WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he has no intention of reinstating his abandoned policy of separating Central American migrant children from their parents when they cross the southern U.S. border from Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.
"We're not looking to do that," Trump said at the White House.
But he added, "Once you don't have it, that's why you see many more people coming. They're coming like it's a picnic, because let's go to Disneyland."
Under a "zero tolerance" policy to arrest all undocumented migrants as they crossed the border, the Trump administration last year broke up hundreds of families, separating more than 2,700 children from their parents. Some adults were charged with immigration violations and others deported back to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador while their children remained in U.S. custody in hopes of eventually winning asylum.
After an international outcry over the family separation policy, Trump ended it last June. Many parents were reunited with their children, but some still have not been. News reports in the U.S. this week suggested Trump was considering reinstating the policy, but he said that is not the case.
Trump, a Republican, blamed his Democratic predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for the child separation policy, although there are differences in the way the two U.S. leaders have dealt with the continuing surge of migrants seeking entry into the U.S.
"President Obama had child separation," Trump said. "I'm the one that stopped it."
Obama did not have a child separation policy, and Trump has not explicitly, either. But the effect of the zero tolerance policy under Trump and promoted by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was to split up families when they walked into the U.S.
The policy often meant that adults were charged criminally and their children separated. When the initial processing took longer than 72 hours, the longest time that the children could be held by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, they were transferred to another federal agency, Health and Human Services, where they were often kept in fenced enclosures.
Trump, sitting alongside Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in the Oval Office, angrily assailed opposition Democratic lawmakers for what he said was their refusal to adopt tougher U.S. immigration controls.
"They want open borders," Trump said. "They don't even want to know who (arriving migrants) are. We're stopping them."
The U.S. leader said, "You have a Democratic Congress that's obstructing. You talk about obstruction? The greatest obstruction anyone's ever seen."
"All they have to do is spend 20 minutes and they can fix this whole problem. ... You have people coming in, claiming asylum. They're all reading exactly what the lawyer gives them. They have a piece of paper, read what that is, and all of a sudden, you're entitled to asylum. And some of these people are not people you want in our country."
He also assailed a judge's decision Monday that blocked a Trump administration policy of requiring asylum-seekers to remain or return to Mexico while their petition is being processed.
"It's a disgrace," he said. "We're bucking a court system that never rules for us."
Trump on Sunday ousted Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen after weeks of blaming her for the surge of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. Earlier, he had rescinded his nomination of Ronald Vitiello to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with Trump saying he wanted to go in "a tougher direction." Trump also dismissed the head of the Secret Service, the agency that protects him and his family.
News accounts in the U.S. say that other leaders at the Department of Homeland Security also could be dismissed in the coming days, but Trump denied he was engaged in a purge of the agency's top officials.