White House officials cite the Bible in defence of border separation policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Jeff Sessions.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Jeff Sessions. Photo credit: Reuters

Senior White House officials have cited the Bible in defence of a policy that's separated hundreds of children from their parents.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month introduced a "zero-tolerance" policy for suspected illegal migrants, meaning everyone who enters the US through improper channels is prosecuted, without exception.

The policy has seen hundreds of children, some reportedly only babies, removed from their parents' custody and placed into detention while their parents wait for their day in court. Earlier this week a mother from Honduras claimed her baby was taken away while she was breastfeeding her.

Nearly 1500 children are being kept in a former Walmart in Texas, which journalists described as being overcrowded and more like a prison.

The UN last week condemned the policy, saying it was "counter to human rights standards and principles".

But Mr Sessions and White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders have defended the policy, turning to an ancient religious text to justify it.

"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," Mr Sessions told reporters. "Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful."

Children at the detention camp in Texas.
Children at the detention camp in Texas. Photo credit: Reuters

Ms Sanders said while she hadn't heard Mr Sessions' comments, she believes the Bible has their back.

"I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible. It's a moral policy to follow and enforce the law."

CNN reporter Jim Acosta pressed her, asking: "Where in the Bible does it say that it's OK to take children away from their parents?"

"Because it's the law," Ms Sanders replied, before accusing Mr Acosta of failing to understand "even short sentences".

Time reports she then wrongly accused the opposition Democrat party for the separation policy, which was only introduced last month.

"The separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close, and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade, and the President is simply enforcing them," Ms Sanders said.

But she doesn't have Catholics on her side. Leading bishops have called for family units to be preserved, with excommunication a possibility for Catholics who take part in enforcing the White House's zero-tolerance policy.

The detention centre is adorned with murals of President Donald Trump.
The detention centre is adorned with murals of President Donald Trump. Photo credit: US Department of Health and Human Services

"I'm simply asking the question if perhaps our canonical affairs committee could give recommendations, at least to those of us who are border bishops, on the possibility of canonical penalties for Catholics who are involved in this," said Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tuscon.

"I think the time is there for prophetic statement. I also think, even though what I'm saying could be a little risky or dangerous, I think it's important to point out the canonical penalties are there in place to heal. First and foremost, to heal. And therefore, for the salvation of these people's souls, maybe it's time for us to look at canonical penalties."

The US is the only country in the UN not party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed in 1989.