WASHINGTON, DC (CBSNewYork) – The Trump administration is strongly defending its decision to institute a zero tolerance illegal immigration policy in which every adult who comes into the country illegally is sent to a judge for prosecution.

That decision has led to children being separated from their parents at the border, and that move has led to heated protests across the country.

“It is absolutely the law of the land to do what we have to do,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley. “There are only two things we can do in this situation, we can release the entire family unit or we can separate them. That’s it.”

Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. referred all illegal immigrants for prosecution, but made exceptions for adults traveling with children.

The Obama administration used the same model but detained families together.

“We have seen a staggering 315 percent increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain access into thie country,” said Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen.

President Doanld Trump says this policy is about stopping the spread of violence from Central America to the United States because criminals use children as pawns to come here illegally.

This morning the president tweeted: “It is the Democrats fault for being weak and ineffective with border security and crime. Tell them to start thinking about the people devastated by crime coming from illegal immigration. Change the laws!”

“They’re describing this as a choice between open borders and afflicting families and that’s not the case,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

The president will meet with congressional Republicans to talk about potential immigration bills on Tuesday.