Speaking to law enforcement officials in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered a full-throated defense of the Trump administration’s new policy of forcibly separating children from their parents at the border by claiming the immoral behavior is justified by the Bible.
“If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then the Department of Homeland Security will arrest you and the Department of Justice will prosecute you. That is what the law calls for — and that is what we are going to do,” Sessions said. “Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution.”
“However, we are not sending children to jail with their parents,” he said, adding that the policy “can result in short-term separation.”
“Noncitizens who cross our borders unlawfully, between our ports of entry, with children are not an exception,” the attorney general said. “They are the ones who broke the law, they are the ones who endangered their own children on their trek. The United States, on the other hand, goes to extraordinary lengths to protect them while the parents go through a short detention period.”
Franklin Graham, a supporter of President Donald Trump, denounced the administration’s policy as “disgraceful.”
In his remarks, Sessions fired back at the “concerns raised by our church friends about separating families,” calling the criticism “not fair or logical” and quoting the Bible to defend his “zero-tolerance” policy.
“Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. 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 them for the purpose of order,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
He called on religious leaders to “speak up strongly to urge anyone who would come here to apply lawfully, to wait their turn and not violate the law.”
VIDEO of AG Sessions invoking the Bible to justify stripping children away from parents.
Watch this, and then call it what it is:
— Leah McElrath 🏳️🌈 (@leahmcelrath) June 14, 2018
Later Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders doubled down on Sessions’ comments, saying it is “very biblical to enforce the law.”
“That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible,” she said, responding to a question about Sessions’ comments about scripture supporting the administration’s policies.
WATCH: During a tense exchange over immigration policy, White House Press Sec. Sanders tells CNN correspondent Jim Acosta that it is "hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess." pic.twitter.com/qvGQe3WsIA
— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 14, 2018
Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on Tuesday that the office is “deeply concerned” by the U.S. government’s decision to separate migrant families, arguing that the policy “amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.”
“Children should never be detained for reasons related to their own or their parents’ migration status. Detention is never in the best interests of the child,” Shamdasani declared, noting that the practice seems to have been in effect since October and has been applied “to both asylum-seekers and other migrants in vulnerable situations.”
“The child’s best interest should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns,” she continued, emphasizing that the policy “runs counter to human rights standards and principles.”
“The majority of people arriving at the U.S.’s southern border have fled Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—in many cases either because of rampant insecurity and violence, or because of violations of a range of other rights, such as health, education, and housing,” she noted. “The U.S. should immediately halt this practice of separating families and stop criminalizing what should at most be an administrative offense.”
Shamdasani also pointed out that although “the rights of children are generally held in high regard in the U.S., it is the only country in the world not to have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.” The convention explicitly states that children “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love, and understanding,” and has been active for nearly three decades.