WASHINGTON — Melania Trump urged “both sides of the aisle” on Sunday to come together to stop federal authorities from separating children from their parents when apprehended at the border, a rare public intervention in an issue that has generated enormous criticism of her husband.
In a statement issued by her office, the first lady expressed empathy for affected families, saying the country should be governed “with a heart,” but did not directly take issue with President Trump’s policy. Instead, by saying that “both sides” needed to agree, she adopted his argument that the situation was caused by political stalemate rather than a policy he initiated.
“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,” the first lady said in the statement, which her office said was issued in response to questions by reporters. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with a heart.”
The president has falsely blamed Democrats for the situation, saying that he was simply enforcing a law that they had written. But no law requires families to necessarily be separated at the border. Children have been taken away from their parents because of a Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy enacted this year to prosecute all unlawful immigrants as criminals.
When parents are taken into federal custody, their children are removed. Previous administrations made exceptions to such prosecutions for adults traveling with minor children, but the Trump administration has said it will not do so. Nearly 2,000 children were taken away from their parents in a six-week period ending last month under the new Trump administration policy.
Mrs. Trump’s statement echoed the president’s words on Friday, when he told reporters that“I hate the children being taken away.” He then added, “The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.”
At times, the first lady has subtly sent signals different from those of her husband. After Mr. Trump blamed “many sides” for violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last year, Mrs. Trump posted a message on Twitter saying, “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts.”
The furor over the separation policy seemed to grow even as the president planned to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday in advance of votes on immigration legislation that has divided his party. Two competing bills are headed to the floor, a hard-line immigration measure that is expected to go down, and a compromise version crafted by the House Republican leadership.
Mr. Trump has confused his allies in the House with conflicting signals about his preferences. At one point on Friday, he said he would not sign the “moderate” bill embraced by the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, only to have the White House later contradict that by saying the president had been confused.
With the fate of the legislation uncertain, Democrats are trying to focus attention on the separation policy as an example of what they call Mr. Trump’s extremist approach to immigration.
Seven House Democrats made a surprise Father’s Day visit to a detention facility in Elizabeth, N.J., on Sunday and said they were blocked for nearly two hours before finally being allowed to see the parents who had been separated from their children.
“Trump claims Democrats are to blame for families’ being broken up,” said one of the Democrats, Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey. “That is a lie. Republicans control every branch of government.”
Some Republican lawmakers have joined Democrats in recent days to push Mr. Trump to reverse or modify the family separation policy by giving new instructions to the Department of Homeland Security.
“President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and often an ally and golfing partner of the president’s, said on CNN on Friday. “I’ll go tell him. If you don’t like families’ being separated, you can tell D.H.S. stop doing it.”
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, condemned the separations, except in cases where there is evidence of abuse or another good reason.
“What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that, if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” she said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “That is traumatizing to the children, who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country.”
“We know from years of experience that we need to fix our immigration laws,” she added, “and that using children is not the answer.”
Anthony Scaramucci, who served briefly as White House communications director, said separating children from their families is not “the Christian way” or “the American way,” and made clear he thinks Mr. Trump can end it on his own. “The President can reverse it and I hope he does,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Trump has said in recent days that Democrats should agree to his panoply of immigration measures, including full financing for a border wall and revamping the system of legal entry to the country, in effect making clear that any legislation addressing family separation must also include his priorities.
A top adviser to Mr. Trump said on Sunday that the president was not using the family separation as leverage to force Democrats to come to the table on other policy disputes, rebutting an unnamed White House official quoted by The Washington Post.
“What the president is saying is if the Democrats are serious, they’ll come together again and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform,” Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor, said on “Meet the Press” on NBC.
“As a mother, as a Catholic, as somebody who has got a conscience, and wouldn’t say the junk that somebody said, apparently, allegedly, I will tell you that nobody likes this policy,” she said. “You saw the president on camera that he wants this to end, but everybody has, Congress has to act.”