WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump and Democratic critics traded outraged, sometimes plainly false accusations about immigration Tuesday as the debate over “lost” children and the practice of separating families caught crossing the border illegally reached a new boiling point.

False charges flew on both sides. The White House wrongly blamed Democrats for forcing his administration to separate children from parents. Liberal activists tried to highlight the issue by tweeting photos of young people in steel cages that actually were taken during the Obama administration. Others seized on reports the government had “lost” more than 1,000 children, though that wasn’t quite the case.

It all comes just in time for the midterm elections as Republicans and Democrats try to rally core voters by pointing fingers at one another. Trump won the presidency promising to build a wall along the southern border and end illegal immigration, and the White House believes stressing the same issues will drive voters to the polls and help the GOP hang on to their majorities in the Senate and House.

The White House is “really beating the immigration drum in the lead-up to the midterm elections as a rallying cry and as a way of mobilizing voter support for Trump and the candidates that he chooses,” said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute and former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton administration. “It does seem to provoke a ratcheting up across the board.”

Indeed, the situation grew so hostile over the holiday weekend that the president’s eldest daughter, White House adviser Ivanka Trump, came under fire for tweeting a photo of herself and her youngest son in their pajamas Sunday morning.

“Focus on what is before you, on what you can control and ignore the trolls!” she later wrote.

During a White House conference call on Tuesday, senior adviser Stephen Miller contended “the current immigration and border crisis” is “the exclusive product of loopholes in federal immigration law that Democrats refuse to close.”

That was after Trump lit up social media over the weekend by falsely claiming there was a “horrible law” that separates children from their parents after they cross the border illegally. He had said previously that “we have to break up families” at the border because “the Democrats gave us that law.”

But there’s no law mandating that parents must be separated from their children, and it’s not a policy Democrats have pushed or can change alone as the minority in Congress. The tactic’s increased use is being driven by Trump’s own administration, which recently announced a new “zero-tolerance policy” in which it will press criminal charges against all people crossing the border illegally, even if they have few or no previous offenses. More children are expected to be separated from their parents as a result.

A Customs and Border Protection official told lawmakers last week that 658 children had been separated from their parents at the border from May 6 to May 19 as the parents face charges. That’s in addition to hundreds more who were estimated to have been removed from their parents since October.

The practice has drawn condemnation from Trump critics, who have long accused him of supporting inhumane policies in his efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.

“He actually called the practice horrible. If he thinks it’s so horrible then he ought to just end it and not make the children a negotiating tool,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.