White House looks to contain damage as Laura Bush joins critics of family separations

The Trump administration sought to distance itself Sunday from the controversial policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border amid condemnation from some prominent Republican voices -- including former first lady Laura Bush.

“Nobody likes” breaking up families and “seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms,” Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Donald Trump, said during her weekend media blitz.

Conway also denied Trump was using the policy as leverage to force Democrats into negotiating immigration reform that also includes one of the president's key campaign promises – the border wall.

Speculation about an elaborate strategy was fueled after Trump tweeted Saturday a call for Congress to work on a new immigration bill.

“Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!” he wrote.

“Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!”

— President Donald Trump

The president previously pointed at Democrats for the existence of the “horrible law” and urged them to support its repeal.

“Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.” he tweeted last month.

Over the weekend, Conway echoed the president, saying Democrats should begin working to get “real immigration reform” passed. She didn’t reveal if Trump was willing to stop the family separation policy, saying only that “the president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board.”

The administration continues to face heavy criticism for enforcing the law, which has led to more than 2,000 children being separated from families who tried to enter the U.S. illegally in just the six weeks since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the “zero-tolerance” approach.

The latest critics include former first lady Laura Bush, wife of former President George W. Bush, who deemed the policy as “cruel” and “immoral.”

“I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” she wrote in an op-ed article for the Washington Post.

“Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso,” she continued. “These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”

Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived White House communications director, also criticized the policy, saying it’s not “the Christian way” or “the American way,” though he hoped that the president would eventually end the policy.

“The President can reverse it and I hope he does,” Scaramucci tweeted.

He reiterated his feelings to Fox 11 in Los Angeles over the weekend, saying that he didn’t think it was a “humane” policy -- but claimed the problem lies on both sides.

"People should sit down and have an honest conversation with the president and say, 'This doesn't reflect well on us,’” he said. "'We have to fix this problem.'”

The policy even sparked a rare public statement from first lady Melania Trump, who generally stays out of her husband’s presidential affairs.

According to her spokeswoman, Melania Trump believes “we need to be a country that follows all laws,” but also one “that governs with heart.”

“Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” the spokeswoman added.

Amid the criticism, Kirstjen Nielsen, head of the Department of Homeland Security, slammed the media on Sunday, tweeting “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”

“This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive. As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry,” she added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.