Public outrage over the forced separation of children from their illegal-alien parents at the US-Mexico border is quickly turning into a political disaster for the administration of US President Donald Trump reminiscent of George W Bush’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina response.

The Trump administration’s conduct has attracted criticism from across the political spectrum, including from former first ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, who condemned the “cruel” and “immoral” practice in a Washington Post op-ed. Even Trump loyalists such as former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and evangelist Franklin Graham have expressed unease about what the Democrats describe as a serious human-rights violation.

While the Trump administration has seen its approval numbers rise recently, detaining hundreds of young people in McAllen, Texas, could cost it dearly in the upcoming midterm elections, say observers.

“I think it’s bad,” said Peter Wehner, who has worked for previous Republican presidents. “It seems to me to be an issue that is breaking through. They [the White House] seem panicked and they are operating in such an inept and dishonest way.”