President Donald Trump tried to cast doubt on wrenching tales of migrant children separated from their families at the border, dismissing "phony stories of sadness and grief" while asserting the real victims of the nation's immigration crisis are Americans killed by those who cross the border unlawfully.
Bombarded with criticism condemning the family-separation situation as a national moment of shame, Trump came back firing, sometimes twisting facts and changing his story but nonetheless highlighting the genuine grief of families on the other side of the equation.
"You hear the other side, you never hear this side," said Trump, standing with a dozen of what he calls the "angel families" who lost loved ones at the hands of people in the country illegally. He focused on the fact that young migrants separated from parents are likely to be reunited, unlike the victims of murders.
"These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones. The word 'permanently' being the word that you have to think about. Permanently - they're not separated for a day or two days, these are permanently separated because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens."
Amid mushrooming bipartisan concern over depictions of terrified migrant children separated from their parents, Trump on Wednesday had abruptly reversed course and signed an executive order to overturn the policy, although up to 2,000 children are still believed to be separated from their parents.
But that rare moment of public capitulation was brief from the president, who laced his remarks at a rally in Minnesota that night with hardline immigration rhetoric that continued Friday. In a tweet, the president raised questions about whether the migrants' hardships really existed.
"We must maintain a Strong Southern Border," the president tweeted. "We cannot allow our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the elections. Obama and others had the same pictures, and did nothing about it!"
Trump's suggestion that the stories were erroneous was likely fuelled by revelations Friday about one of the defining images to this point in the crisis, a two-year-old Honduran girl crying as her mother was stopped by a Border Patrol agent. But the girl in the photograph, who ended up on the cover of Time Magazine this week, was not separated from her mother but detained with her, the child's father told the Daily Mail. Time Magazine said it stood by the image because it captures "the stakes of this moment."