The Trump administration’s policy of removing immigrant children from their families has become so controversial that even the President’s base of core supporters is speaking out.
In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy towards those crossing the US border illegally.
Arizona, New Mexico, and some districts of California and Texas have been ordered to criminally prosecute adults, causing them to lose custody of any accompanying children.
Most children are sent to live with family members – but until then, they are largely housed in about 100 government-run centres, one of which limits kids to two hours of outdoor time a day.
In 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. But some of the movement’s leaders have started to criticise the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
Evangelical leader and Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham is a vocal Trump supporter, who prayed at Trump’s inauguration and defended the presidents’ “concern for Christian values.” He is now among those to disavow the policy.
“It’s disgraceful. It’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit,” Graham told CBN News this week, though he blamed “politicians for the last 20, 30 years” rather than Trump explicitly.
In extraordinary scenes on Thursday, Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders both referenced the Bible to defend the policy.
“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is, actually, repeated a number of times throughout the Bible,” Sanders said in a press conference.
Many Christians in the US seem, in this case at least, not to agree. Just this week the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which represents 47,272 US churches, voted on a resolution regarding immigration reform that pointedly described the importance of family.
“We desire to see immigration reform include an emphasis on securing our borders and providing a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity, resulting in an efficient immigration system that honours the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families,” the resolution read.
The most public-facing arm of the SBC, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is also part of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition which recently issued a letter to Trump asking him to reverse the “zero tolerance” policy of separating “vulnerable children” from their families.
“The traumatic effects of this separation on these young children, which could be devastating and long-lasting, are of utmost concern,” the letter says. Its writers include the president of World Vision, and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and an informal evangelical adviser to Trump.
But evangelical leaders aren’t the only ones speaking out.
Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops this week issued a statement “condemning the continued use of family separation at the US/Mexico border.”
“Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma,” said DiNardo.
He added: “Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”
Aside from winning 4 out of 5 evangelical voters in 2016, Trump also won white Catholics with a 23-point margin, of 60% to 37%.
But that didn’t stop one bishop this week suggesting that, as part of the Catholic church’s focus on “life issues,” it could consider denying communion or other sacraments to individuals who are involved with separating children from their parents at the border.