After touring a San Diego-area immigration detention facility holding children, House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on the Trump administration to end its "zero tolerance" policy that includes separating migrant children from families.
Pelosi called it a "heartbreaking, barbaric issue that could be changed in a moment by the president of the United States rescinding his action." She also said the practice "challenges the conscience of our country that it must be changed, must be changed immediately."
The minority leader toured immigration detention facilities in the San Diego area with at least a dozen other congressional Democrats. She said within the last 24 hours there was another delegation that went to the Southwest border in Texas and during the visit to a shelter "held some of the children in their arms."
The Democrats are calling attention to the Trump administration's migrant family separation policy, which has drawn criticism from even some GOP lawmakers. One of the facilities is Casa San Diego, located in the El Cajon area. It houses more than 60 boys separated from their families or who were unaccompanied by parents when they arrived in the United States.
In all, there are at least 27 such shelters in the Southwest border states to house youths up to 17 years of age. There also are plans to add more such facilities, including on military bases in Texas.
The White House's "zero tolerance" border enforcement policy was announced last month by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and means more families crossing into the U.S. illegally are getting split up. Also, even if those families request asylum they are separated.
The detention facilities for migrant children are operated by a refugee resettlement agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The children are transferred to the shelters by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
HHS had nearly 11,800 minors in custody as of Monday, NBC News reported. Reports suggest that number could reach 30,000 by August.
President Donald Trump has blamed Democrats for the policy. On Saturday, Trump tweeted: "Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!"
Trump called Democrats "obstructionist" in remarks at the White House on Monday. "We cannot get them even to the negotiating table. And I say it's very strongly the Democrats' fault."
But Pelosi and other Democrats say the policy of separating children was set up by the Trump administration as a deterrent against undocumented immigration and insist it isn't working.
"President Trump's family separation policy leaves a dark stain on our nation," Pelosi said in a statement Monday. "This barbaric policy violates our asylum laws and the constitutional rights of parents."