Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday pointed to the Bible to justify the Trump administration's policy of separating undocumented immigrant parents from their children. In doing so, Sessions said all laws are ordained by God and that having children does not protect people from 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," he said in a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then the Department of Homeland Security will arrest you and the Department of Justice will prosecute you. Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution."
He added that the US "goes to extraordinary lengths" to protect children while their parents go through the court process.
Multiple Christian pastors, including one prominent reverend who supports President Trump, have criticized Sessions over the practice of dividing families in recent weeks. Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma and a pastor himself, tweeted Thursday that he was petitioning the White House to reverse the policy.
Trump tweeted in late May that a "horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border" was the fault of Democrats.
It is not, in fact, the law.
Crossing the border illegally is a federal misdemeanor, and recrossing illegally is a felony, but no law mandates the separation of families that cross the border illegally. It is a byproduct of a zero-tolerance policy under the Trump administration and announced by Sessions himself.
In years past, immigrants crossing the border illegally often did not face criminal charges, according to Politifact, but would instead be deported or appear before an immigration court.
Sessions has said the Justice Department will prosecute everyone who crosses illegally, so since children cannot legally be housed in the same jail as adults, authorities break up the families to hold the parents in jail and the children in juvenile detention centers.
The decision to prosecute is the key factor in whether children will be separated from their parents.
Reporters on Thursday pressed White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the policy at the daily press briefing, with one asking, "Where does it say in the Bible that it's moral to take children away from their mothers?"
Sanders replied that she was not aware of Sessions' statements, but echoed him anyway.
"I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law," she said. "That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible."
During the heated exchange with reporters, Sanders also repeated a false claim by Trump that Sessions' policy was the fault of Democrats and that it's the law.