WASHINGTON (TNS) — Democrats responded skeptically Sunday to the Trump administration's assertion that it has a process in place to reunite more than 2,000 "separated minors" with their parents, while Republican lawmakers sought to defend the president's immigration policies and again promised that all the children taken from their parents in recent weeks were accounted for.
Trump himself, however, redoubled his denunciation of all unauthorized arrivals, even those legally seeking asylum. In a message on Twitter, he suggested that people crossing the border should be deported summarily, without a court hearing.
"We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country," he wrote. "When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came."
Despite Trump's language about invasion, the flow of people crossing the border illegally remains low compared with just a few years ago, although numbers are higher than they were last spring, in the months just after Trump took office.
The president's hard line Sunday contrasted with efforts by congressional allies to respond to the highly unpopular administration policy, now rescinded, of automatically taking minors away from parents apprehended at the border.
Even a prominent Republican Trump ally acknowledged frustration over the lack of information from the White House after the nationwide furor over the family separations.
"I don't, actually," Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said when asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" whether he thought the White House had been fully transparent about its handling of the issue. In the same interview, however, Lankford said that "we know where every single child is."
Immigration advocates and Democratic lawmakers have voiced alarm and outrage over the fact that Trump's executive order last week reversing himself on the policy of separating families did not incorporate any pledge to swiftly reunite them.
Late Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services said in a joint statement that the government still had 2,053 "separated minors" in its custody and another roughly 10,000 children who had arrived at the border without parents.
The statement said a process had been established to return the separated minors to their parents, centered at the Port Isabel detention center near the Texas Gulf Coast north of Brownsville.
The statement said that 522 migrant children had been reunited with their parents, although it did not say how many, if any, of those had been reunited since Trump signed his order on Wednesday.
"The United States government knows the location of all children in its custody," the statement read, but it did not claim that the government knows who or where all the children's parents are. The government "is working to reunite them with their families," the statement said. "This process is well coordinated."
With the controversy over the separations only partly abated, no senior administration official went on the Sunday news shows to defend the White House's actions, as would be normal practice when a major policy issue is involved.
There also has also been no White House news briefing since a contentious session on Monday, when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders erroneously said the policy was mandated by law and that its enforcement was "biblical."
Sanders became embroiled in controversy over the weekend after she was asked to leave a restaurant in Lexington, Va., and subsequently used her government Twitter account to identify the establishment involved. That raised questions of the ethics of shunning people over political differences and whether Sanders had violated government ethics rules by using an official platform to single out a private business.
Lankford, who has moved to spearhead a short-term congressional fix on the family separation issue, acknowledged that Trump's rhetoric on immigration has been polarizing.
In a speech Saturday in Las Vegas, Trump blamed a "tremendous" surge in violence on immigrants, despite the fact that violent crime in the U.S. has declined in recent years, and studies that show that immigrants, legal and illegal, do not commit crimes at higher rates than non-immigrants.
Trump partisans have traded heavily on that notion, and the president has signaled determination to make the purported security threat posed by immigrants a central issue in this year's midterm elections.
"Our issue is strong borders, no crime," Trump said in Nevada. Referring to Democrats, he said: "Their issue is open borders."
Trump has repeatedly blamed Democrats for his administration's family separation policy, and Sunday he again asserted that the Democrats, despite having control of neither house of Congress, were responsible for the lack of a legislative solution.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on CNN's "State of the Nation" that Trump's self-contradicting actions and statements had hampered prospects for a bipartisan measure.
"Clearly, anyone who looks at the record understands that the Democrats have been serious about comprehensive immigration reform," Sanders said. "We have a president who's not serious about policy," he added.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said the administration was neglecting the fact that most of the people illegally crossing the border in recent years were fleeing violence in Central America.
"That's one of the reasons this idea of a deterrent may not work," King said on NBC. "If you're looking down the barrel of a gun in your home community, whatever your chances are to get to a free country, you're going to take it in order to save your family's lives. So that really is what we're talking about here."
"And this is very different from the waves of illegal immigrants coming across the border 15, 20 years ago, mostly from Mexico, simply looking for jobs. Mexican migration has diminished enormously."