The White House cited a nonexistent law and the Bible to defend the government’s controversial policy of separating undocumented immigrant parents from their children upon their arrest at the U.S. border with Mexico.
CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked press secretary Sarah Sanders about comments made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier Thursday, in which he referenced the Bible to defend the administration’s border tactics.
“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,” said Sessions.
In her first press briefing since CBS News reported that she may soon leave her position in the Trump administration, Sanders said she had not heard Sessions’s exact comments but agreed with the sentiment.
“I can say it is very biblical to enforce the law,” said Sanders, “that is repeated a number of times in the Bible.”
There is no U.S. law requiring that the children of immigrants entering the country illegally to be separated from their parents. Sanders later blamed Democrats for not fixing border policy despite the fact that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House.
President Trump’s administration has been criticized in recent weeks for stepping up efforts to separate migrant children from their parents as a means of deterring more immigrants. Over 10,000 migrant children are currently in federal custody. Previous administrations have chosen to deal with border crossers via non-criminal immigration courts, which did not require separating families, but under Trump, children are being placed in camps when no relatives or foster care spots are available.
Those who have visited the camps have compared them to prisons, and NBC News reported that in one detention center a mural of Trump along with a quote from his book “The Art of the Deal” was painted on the wall. Earlier this week, a migrant mother claimed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents took her infant daughter away while she was breastfeeding her, a charge the government denied. Other immigrants have reported that agents have told them their children were being taken to bathe only to never see them again. Some children have been in foster care for months without knowing the location of their parents while other parents say they’ve been deported for months but still haven’t had their children returned to them.
The increased separations can be attributed to a change in White House policy that took effect in early April that stated that anyone attempting to cross the border illegally would be incarcerated and charged. The policy’s goal, per a memo obtained by the Washington Post, is to deter border crossings. Since children are not allowed in jails, they’re separated from their parents. Many of those attempting to cross the border are seeking from violence in their home countries, but new policies would disallow asylum seekers for the reasons of domestic abuse and gang violence.
CBS News reporter Paula Reid pushed back on Sanders’s claim that federal agencies were simply following the law by pointing out that no such law existed, asking why the White House refused to take responsibility for its policy change.
“There is no law that requires families be separated at the border,” said Reid. “This is the administration’s choice to move from civil matters on immigration to criminal.”
Sanders again cited nonexistent legislation, arguing that the White House had been consistent in its policy of enforcing laws. This answer caused an emotional reaction from CNN political analyst Brian Karem.
“Come on, Sarah, you’re a parent, don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through?” asked Karem. “They have less than you do.”
Sanders declined to answer the question.
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