President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet Tuesday with congressional Republicans to discuss immigration just as the House of Representatives is set to hold votes on two immigration bills this week. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and others point to a 2008 child-trafficking law and a subsequent court ruling, saying both leave the administration with its hands "tied", and compel law enforcement officials to send migrant children to one processing center and adults to another for the misdemeanor offense of crossing the border.
"I believe this policy is wrong, does not reflect our country's basic values and should end immediately".
People caught crossing illegally now face automatic criminal prosecution.
What would happen to the children?
As the United States protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the minors are not charged with a crime, family separation seems unavoidable.
More than 1100 people were inside the large, dark facility, which is divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children. They are not permitted to be jailed together since the minors are not charged with the crime.
"To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration's commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice", he said.
Former first lady Laura Bush called out the administration's practices, comparing the children to those who were placed in kennels at Japanese internment camps during World War II.
"We finally have a president willing to work with Congress to solve this, and that's what this bill does", said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said.
"Every human being with a sense of compassion and decency should be outraged", Clinton said. But they are running up against Trump's shifting views on specifics and his determination, according to advisers, not to look soft on immigration or his signature border wall.
She compared it to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, which she called "one of the most shameful episodes in US history".
The policy has drawn condemnation from medical professionals, religious leaders and immigration activists, who warn that some children could suffer lasting psychological trauma.
Human rights group Amnesty International has also slammed the family seperation policy and called it "a spectacularly cruel" one.
Top Democrats contended that Trump could change the policy with the stroke of a pen.
"We need you, those children need you -and I am talking directly to my Republican colleagues- we need you to stand up to President Donald Trump", he said.
"We can not detain children with their parents", she said, adding that releasing parents with their children amounts to a "get out of jail free card" policy for those who try to cross the border illegally.
Since children can not be sent to the facilities where their parents are held, they are separated from them. "We need you to remind him this is the United States of America and it is a great country".
Under the policy, adults who try to cross into the US illegally, many of whom plan to seek asylum, are placed in custody and undergo criminal prosecution.