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The Trump administration is detaining immigrant children in 17 states, including more than 2,000 taken from their parents after they crossed the USA border illegally, officials said Tuesday as the president's family-separation policy came under intensifying criticism.

"We want to keep families together".

"There will not be a grandfathering of existing cases", Kenneth Wolfe, spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families, part of HHS, told The Times.

"We have to get the Democrats to go ahead and work with us because as a result of Democrat-supported loopholes in our federal laws, most illegal immigrant families and minors from Central America who arrive unlawfully at the border can not be detained together or removed together - only released", he said.

Senator Cruz pointed out the policy of child separation existed during the Obama years as well, but the current outrage in the media is aimed at hurting President Trump's immigration agenda.

"It's about keeping families together while at the same time making sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border", Trump said as he signed the order in a hastily arranged Oval Office gathering. "But we also don't want families to be locked up in internment centers in America".

"To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration's commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice", he said.

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The president's policy change came after days of uproar over audio and photos of kids as young as a few months taken away from their parents.

In May, the Department of Justice adopted the zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the US illegally is criminally prosecuted. Very important. Were going to be signing an executive order.

Trump told Republicans during a closed-door meeting Tuesday night that he would support them "1,000 percent" on immigration but did not specifically back either bill.

"We want to keep families together", Trump said at the White House.

Majority Whip John Cornyn said legislation benefiting families and law enforcement could stand alone or be attached to a spending bill.

That's according to two people familiar with her thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the effort before its official announcement. In 2015, a federal judge in Los Angeles expanded the terms of the settlement, ruling that it applies to children who are caught with their parents as well as to those who come to the US alone. The decision did not state parents must be released.