Washington (CNN) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the solution to the current crisis of thousands of undocumented children being separated from their parents at the border is for them to not come into the country illegally.
When the President was asked about the deadline the government missed to reunite all undocumented children under the age of 5 with their parents, Trump told reporters, "Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That's the solution. Don't come to our country illegally. Come like other people do. Come legally."
"Is that what you're saying? You're punishing the children?" a reporter followed up.
"I'm saying this very simply: We have laws. We have borders. Don't come to our country illegally. It's not a good thing," Trump replied.
Trump's comments come after the federal government failed to meet Tuesday's deadline to reunite all children under the age of 5 who have been held by the government for weeks or months with their parents, after being separated from them at the border.
The government admitted it will be able to meet the deadline only for just over half of the children in this group, and they're just a fraction of the thousands of young immigrants still in custody apart from their parents, many of whom are detained and separated from family as a byproduct of the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy.
The President, speaking to reporters as he departed the White House en route to the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, went on to defend US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is facing increased scrutiny from Democrats and immigrant advocates.
"As far as ICE is concerned, the people that are fighting ICE, it's a disgrace. These people go into harm's way. There is nobody under greater danger than the people of ICE. That they do to MS-13 and everything else, so, we ought to support ICE, not do what the Democrats are doing. Democrats want open borders and they don't mind crime. We don't want crime and we want borders where borders mean something. And remember this, without borders, you do not have a country," Trump said.
CNN's Tal Kopan contributed to this report.