Donald Trump’s former campaign manager sparked outrage after he appeared to mock the plight of a girl with Down syndrome who had been separated from her mother at the US-Mexico border.
The 10-year-old’s ordeal was highlighted by Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray at a press conference on Tuesday.
It followed reports of Trump’s administration operating three “tender age” shelters for children forcibly split from their parents under the President’s hard-line immigration policy.
Appearing on Fox News yesterday, Corey Lewandowski rolled his eyes when discussing the girl’s separation and responded with the words “Womp womp”, incensing his opponent, Democrat Zac Petankas.
Petankas responded: “How dare you! How dare you!”
Trump has sidestepped responsibility for the practice, telling Republicans on Tuesday that he is “1,000%” behind their immigration reform effort, without offering any indication of changes that need to be made.
At a closed-door meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill, the President was said to have expressed concern for the families being separated and urged officials to pass legislation that keeps families together, the Guardian reported.
However, he has not indicated he is willing to reverse the policy, or that he could stop it without legislation.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka and wife, Melania have appealed to him to stop splitting up families. Trump was said to have told members of his daughter’s plea at the meeting.
Representative Carlos Curbelo told reporters Trump had pledged to Republican members of Congress that he would sign any immigration bill the House of Representatives passes without seeking any changes.
The 10-year-old girl parted from her mother is being held in an immigration centre in McAllen, Texas, along with her brother, who is also 10. Their father, a US resident, is trying to gain custody of them.
The children’s mother, who accompanied them to the border, is in a shelter in Brownsville, Texas, where a former Walmart now houses thousands of would-be immigrants on the border with Mexico.
In the last five weeks more than 2,300 children have reportedly been separated from their parents under the “zero tolerance” policy.
Videgaray said the practice was “cruel and inhumane” and a “clear violation of human rights and puts children, including those with disabilities, in a vulnerable situation”.
Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who leads polls ahead of the country’s July 1 election, asked incumbent Enrique Pena Nieto to “act urgently” to stop “that arrogant, racist, inhuman attitude of deporting children, putting them in cages and separating them from their parents”.
Universities minister Sam Gyimah on Wednesday called the policy “indefensible” and Theresa May, speaking during prime minister’s questions, called it “deeply disturbing”.
May said despite the widespread outrage she would not be withdrawing her invitation for Trump to visit the UK in July.
“The pictures of children being held in what appear to be cages are deeply disturbing. This is wrong. This is not something we agree with. This is not the UK’s approach,” she told MPs.
The PM said she she “unequivocally” believed what the US administration was doing on its border was “wrong”.
Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described rooms of crying pre-school-aged children in emotional crisis.
“The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which provides foster care and other child welfare services to migrant children.
She told the Guardian: “Toddlers are being detained.”