Stephen Bannon, President Trump's former chief strategist, above in 2017,...

Stephen Bannon, President Trump's former chief strategist, above in 2017, defended Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy during an appearance on ABC News' "This Week" on Sunday. Credit: AP / Mary Schwalm

Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon said President Donald Trump doesn’t need to “justify” his policy of separating children from parents crossing the southern U.S. border because it is part of the administration’s “zero tolerance” approach on illegal immigration.

“We have a crisis on the southern border,” Bannon, who was also chief executive officer of Trump’s presidential campaign, said Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.”

“We ran on a policy — very simply — stop mass illegal immigration and limit legal immigration, get our sovereignty back to help our workers, and so he went to a zero-tolerance policy,” Bannon said. “It’s a crime to come across illegally and children get separated. I mean, I hate to say it, that’s the law and he’s enforcing the law.”

In May, the Trump administration announced a stricter border patrol policy aimed at preventing illegal immigration. Any migrant caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border will be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice and could face jail time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said.

According to U.S. immigration enforcement procedure, any child of a parent detained for prosecution is placed with an adult sponsor or in a shelter.

“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said at a law enforcement conference in Arizona. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”

From April 19 to May 31, 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults, according to Homeland Security statistics cited by The Associated Press.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on CBS’ “Face the Nation” called the policy “inconsistent with American values.” She also said it has been shown not to serve as a deterrent to illegal border crossings.

Collins said she was concerned about news media reports that those seeking asylum in the United States were having their children detained.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also criticized the administration’s child separation policy.

“What the administration is doing is they’re using the grief, the tears, the pain of these kids as mortar to build our wall. And it’s an effort to extort a bill to their liking in the Congress. It’s, I think, deeply unethical,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Also on Sunday morning talk shows, White House counsel Rudy Giuliani said Trump would not issue pardons during the investigation, but said he didn’t know what would happen afterward.

“My advice to him, as long as I’m his lawyer, is not to do it,” Giuliani said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” referring to Trump possibly issuing pardons, “because you just cloud what is becoming now a very clear picture of an extremely unfair investigation with no — no criminality involved in it of any kind.”

Giuliani said, however, that “when it’s over, hey, he’s the president of the United States. He retains his pardon power. Nobody is taking that away from him.”

Collins said she would advise Trump and his team to avoid talking about the Mueller probe because it opens new avenues for special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate as he looks into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.

“Never mention the word pardon again when it comes to the Mueller investigation,” she said.

In a rare policy statement from first lady Melania Trump, she said the country should govern “with heart.”

“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,” her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement to the media. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

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