Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Thursday that the White House was only enforcing the law through its zero tolerance policy on illegal immigration but that "the American people don't like the idea that we're separating families.
"We never really intended to do that," Lewandowski told Chris Cuomo on CNN.
"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you," he added. "And that child may be separated from you, as required by law."
President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order that stopped immigration officials from separating children from their parents who illegally cross into the United States.
The president, however, insisted the U.S. border with Mexico would still remain "tough" despite the order.
The Justice Department said Thursday that its lawyers would seek permission to detain families until criminal and removal proceedings are completed.
"We're the nation of laws," Lewandowski told Cuomo. "Those laws are very clear.
"We are the largest country in the world that grants asylums to individuals being persecuted."
He said the U.S. grants over one million asylums a year, with the No. 2 country being Germany.
"We are a country of immigrants, a country with a big heart and that wants to welcome people in," he said. "You have to do it legally.
"If we don't have laws and rules, then we can't be successful. And people understand that.
"It has to be done legally — and that's what's important."
President Trump, he said, has "done everything he can within the confines of the law which have been established to fix the problem.
"This is Congress' problem.
"The Democrats had supermajorities in the U.S. — the majority in the House in 2006 and '08 — and they chose not to fix this problem."
Turning to the criticism he has faced since saying "womp, womp" while Democrat Zac Petkanas was discussing the plight of a girl with Down syndrome that had been removed from her parent at the border, Lewandowski said he was attacking his debater, not the child.
"I never meant to insult anybody with Down syndrome," he told Cuomo. "Who I was talking to was Zach.
"I understand what the perception is here and what the media wants to talk about," he added. "But what Zach was attempting to do was to use a child with Down syndrome to politicize an issue.
"What he didn't tell you, what you need to understand, was that person, that poor child, was not taken from her parent because she came to this country illegally.
"That poor child was taken from her parent because her mother has been suspected as a material witness in a smuggling ring.
"I would never degrade a child," Lewandowski said. "I'm a father of four I understand that.
"We have to get past using children as political tools and come up with real solutions."
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