“We’re not looking to do that,” Trump told reporters before a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, adding a raft of criticisms of U.S. immigration policy and Congress.
Outgoing Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen oversaw the “zero tolerance” prosecution policy that required adults crossing the border illegally to be criminally prosecuted.
Because children could not be held in federal jails with their parents, the policy led to the separation of parents from thousands of their young children with whom they traveled.
The border enforcement stance led to legal challenges and a public outcry that eventually forced the policy’s reversal.
Under Trump, federal agencies are trying to stem rising numbers of people arriving at the border, many of them families fleeing violence and poverty in Central America, that swelled last month to the highest in a decade. Republican Trump campaigned in 2016 on a promise to restrict immigration and has made it a central focus of his presidency.
While Trump said he was not responsible for the family separation policy, which his administration put in place last year, he also suggested migrants and asylum seekers had an incentive to cross the border when it was not being used.
“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,’” Trump said.
Trump ousted Nielsen on Sunday following a disagreement between them on the best way to handle border security. The White House plans to remove more top leaders in the Department of Homeland Security, an official familiar with the matter said.
Another Trump policy carried out to discourage immigration across the southern border, sending some asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico, was blocked by a judge on Monday.
Reporting by Jeff Mason and Makini Brice; Editing by Susan Heavey and Grant McCool