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Melania Trump wades into her husband's controversial border policies

US president Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump

First lady Melania Trump has waded into the emotional controversy over policies enacted by her husband's administration that have increased the number of migrant children being separated from their parents.

Mrs Trump's spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said the first lady believes "we need to be a country that follows all laws", but also one "that governs with heart".

She said that Mrs Trump "hates to see children separated from their families" and hopes "both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform".

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new "zero-tolerance" policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution.

President Donald Trump has tried to blame Democrats, who hold no levers of power in the government, for the situation that has sparked fury and a national debate over the moral implications of his hard-line approach to immigration enforcement.

"Nobody likes" breaking up families and "seeing babies ripped from their mothers' arms," Kellyanne Conway, a counsellor to the president, said.

The administration wants to send a message, said Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican critic of the policy, "that if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you. That's traumatising to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country."

Mr Trump plans to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss pending immigration legislation amid an election-season debate over an issue that helped vault the New York real estate mogul into the Oval Office in 2016.

The house is expected to vote this week on a bill pushed by conservatives that may not have enough support to pass, and a compromise measure that includes key proposals supported by the president. The White House has indicated Mr Trump would sign either of those.

Ms Conway rejected the idea that Mr Trump was using the kids as leverage to force Democrats to negotiate on immigration and his long-promised border wall, even after Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday: "Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!"

She, too, put the onus on Democrats, saying if there are serious about overhauling the system, "they'll come together again and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform".

Asked whether the president was willing to end the policy, she said: "The president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board."

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