More than two dozen of the largest religious groups in the U.S. are imploring the Trump administration to change its "zero tolerance" policy that leads to children being separated from parents caught illegally crossing the border.
And during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network this week, Franklin Graham, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, said the practice of separating families was “disgraceful.”
The growing list of religious leaders and organizations writing letters and making statements includes several leading evangelical churches and institutions, which often align themselves with Republicans politically.
"As evangelical Christians guided by the Bible, one of our core convictions is that God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society. The state should separate families only in the rarest of instances,” Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and other evangelical leaders wrote in a group letter to the White House.
The letter, also signed by the National Association of Evangelicals, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and others, went on to call the “traumatic effects” of separation potentially “devastating,” “long-lasting,” and “of utmost concern.”
The push-back from faith leaders coincided this week with Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday citing the Bible as justification for his new, tough “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
“Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. If you violate the law you subject yourself to prosecution," Sessions said, while speaking before church leaders in his home state of Indiana. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”
Asked about the Sessions comments, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders doubled down.
“I can say that it's very biblical to enforce the law. It's repeated many times throughout the Bible,” she said, though she added she was aware of Sessions' exact comments.
Separating children from parents has come under intense scrutiny from both sides of the aisle and seems to be the result of the Justice Department’s new policy to criminally detain and prosecute 100 percent of people apprehended at the border, even those seeking asylum. The administration has claimed minors cannot be housed with parents in criminal holding facilities, but officials have also said the tough practice might deter people from crossing.
The group of evangelical leaders who wrote to the White House addressed on the issue of asylum directly. “Not every individual arriving will merit asylum protection, but we would ask that families be kept together while ensuring each individual asylum seeker is afforded due process according to our laws,” their letter read.
"We are also concerned that there are fewer legal possibilities for those with a well-founded fear of persecution to be considered for refugee status without needing to make it to the U.S. border,” it went on.
During a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Florida this week, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo addressed the Justice Department’s other recent decision to stop accepting asylum claims based on domestic or gang violence.
“At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life. The Attorney General’s recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection. These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country,” DiNardo said in a statement and also condemned the continued use of family separation at the border. “Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral,” he said.
Representatives of other large churches and religious organization, including the US Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Islamic Society of North America and Union for Reform Judaism, released a joint statement as well.
“We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support human community and understand the household as an estate blessed by God,” they wrote. “The security of the family provides critical mental, physical and emotional support to the development and well-being of children.”
“We pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families,” their statement continued.