SAN DIEGO -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic elected officials toured a San Diego-area immigration-detention facility housing migrant children Monday, as the rhetoric over the policy of separating children from parents crossing the border illegally continued to escalate.
The visit by the highest-ranking House Democrat -- which was organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- came in response to the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" prosecution policy being implemented by the Department of Homeland Security.
The policy aims to prosecute all suspected border-crossers, including adults traveling with children. Federal authorities said Friday that government officials had separated 1,995 children from parents facing criminal prosecution for unlawfully crossing the border over a six-week period that ended last month.
"This is so heartbreaking. It so challenges the conscience of our country that it must be changed -- and changed immediately," Pelosi said after touring an El Cajon detention facility. "... We will be persisting in getting the information we need to make sure the American people understand that their values are on the line."
A mother of five and grandmother of nine, Pelosi referred to family separation not as an immigrant issue, but as a humanitarian crisis.
"I know that these people in Congress and in the administration are parents, that they understand the damage that's being done when stress is exacted on children by separating them from their families. Do they think these children deserve less than their children do in terms of care and love?" Pelosi said.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that Democrats are to blame for a law requiring the separation of immigrant children from their families, although he has never cited the exact law and critics insist that no such legislation exists. The blame, critics and Democrats say, lies solely with the Trump administration, which initiated the family separations through the enforcement of its "zero-tolerance" policy.
Speaking at a White House event Monday, Trump called the family separates "sad," again insisting "we're stuck with these horrible laws."
"If the Democrats would sit down instead of obstructing, we could have something done very quickly," he said. "Good for the children, good for the country, good for the world."
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was also defiant as she spoke at a conference in New Orleans, saying the agency "will not apologize for doing our job."
She later again blamed Democrats for the situation, saying the loudest critics of what is occurring at the border "are those whose policies created this crisis."
Four former first ladies -- including Republican Laura Bush -- have publicly denounced the policy of separating families. Bush wrote an opinion piece published Sunday in the Washington Post in which she called the policy "immoral."
"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," Bush wrote.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, spoke on the House floor Thursday to demand an end to the policy.
"In our country, family is an institution," Peters said. "Today, family -- that concept -- is being torn apart and challenged at our own borders."