(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump defended his controversial immigration policies on Monday ahead of a closely watched meeting with GOP lawmakers who have criticized his administration's "zero-tolerance" approach to border protection.
Trump is scheduled to meet with House Republicans on Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss two Republican-backed immigration bills amid growing calls to end practices that have separated migrant families at the southern border. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bills this week.
Neither bill specifically deals with children separated from their parents, and the Trump administration pushed back against claims it had intentionally separated thousands of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border amid accusations that it was using the children to force Congress to pass immigration reform.
"Children are not being used as a pawn," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a press briefing Monday. "We are trying to protect the children."
"The voices most loudly criticizing the enforcement of our current laws are those whose policies created this crisis and whose policies perpetuate it," she added.
Nielsen said she had not heard the controversial audio first published by ProPublica that made rounds on Monday, purportedly captured at a immigration detention center last week. The audio appears to capture the heartbreaking voices of Spanish-speaking children crying out for their parents.
As part of the "zero-tolerance" policy, federal prosecutors have been ordered to file criminal charges against any adult caught crossing the border illegally, including those traveling with minors. The children are being placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services and adults are apprehended by law enforcement.
Critics, including top lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, have called for an immediate end to the practice, with some calling it inhumane and cruel.
Antar Davidson, a former youth care worker for a shelter in Tucson, Arizona, compared the detention centers to jails for children.
“You started getting more kids who were younger and had just recently been ripped from their parents. So as expected, they were traumatized and that was manifested in many behaviors,” Davidson said in an interview with ABC News. “Kids were throwing chairs, they were hitting employees and the employees were run ragged by these kids who were just displaying systems of trauma.
“Kinda just reacting in the only way they knew how in a situation that they had no idea what was going on,” he added.
Davidson said he quit after he was forced to tell family that they couldn’t hug each other goodbye.
“I said, ‘As a human being I can’t do that, you can do that yourself,’ to which she responded that she would report me to the shift supervisor and she preceded to try to tell [the migrants] exactly that [they couldn't hug] in Spanish and English despite them speaking Portuguese,” Davidson said recalling an alleged conversation with higher-ups at the center. “That was the beginning of the end for me. My registration came in a week later.”
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