White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has issued a pointed message to evangelicals who oppose the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Addressing the widespread criticism from almost every corner of the Christian community, Sanders suggested that Christians open up their doors to welcome in illegal immigrants.
When pressed on whether President Trump has had direct contact with his evangelical supporters on the issue, Sanders simply replied:
“I think any evangelical, or any church for that matter, that feels strongly, they should open their doors and help facilitate some of these individuals,” the press secretary said during Monday’s briefing. “I think that’s their calling, that’s the mission of the church, and they should certainly fulfill that. And if they want to fix the immigration system then they should call their members of Congress and ask them to join with us to do that.”
“The president doesn’t want to put a band-aid on this, he wants to fix the system,” Sanders continued in her press briefing, urging cross-party support for immigration reform. “He’s tired of administrations claiming they are going to help the system and then just kicking the can down the road.”
Speaking at the White House Tuesday, United States Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, tried to explain the legal complexity of the current immigration system.
“The laws prohibit us from detaining families while they go through prosecution for illegally entering the border and while they go through prosecution for illegally entering the border and while they go through prosecution for immigration proceedings,” she said. “If we close the loopholes, we can keep the families together, which is what they did in the last administration until a court ruled that we can no longer do that. After 20 days, we have to release both unaccompanied children and accompanied children. This means we cannot detain families together.”
Nielsen said that, at this point, the only other option is “to not enforce the law at all.”
When a reporter suggested that the controversial policy was exclusive to the Trump administration, only coming into force after the Attorney General announced the “zero tolerance” policy, Nielsen was quick to correct her.
“This never happened before,” the reporter declared.
“That’s actually not true,” Nielsen snapped back. “The Obama administration, the Bush administration, they separated families at the border. Their rate was less than ours. But they absolutely did do this. This is not new.”
Despite optimism from the White House with regards to a potential immigration policy change, faith leaders have continued to express outrage at the current situation.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez were among a vast number of evangelical leaders who penned a letter to the Trump administration openly opposing the policy.
“As evangelical leaders representing tens of thousands of local churches, campus communities, and ministries we are concerned that the new ‘zero tolerance’ policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, recently announced by Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions and being implemented by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, has had the effect of separating vulnerable children from their parents,” reads the June 1 letter.
“As head of the Executive Branch of the federal government, we are writing to ask you to resolve this situation of families being separated that you have rightly described as ‘horrible,’” the Christian leaders continue. “As evangelical Christians guided by the Bible, one of our core convictions is that God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society. The state should separate families only in the rarest of instances.”
“While illegal entry to the United States can be a misdemeanor criminal violation, past administrations have exercised discretion in determining when to charge individuals with this offense, taking into account the well-being of children who may also be involved,” the letter adds.
Other evangelicals, as well as entire Christian denominations, have spoken out in harsh criticism of the immigration policy.
“God have mercy on those who seem so nonchalant to the plight of children being separated from their parents,” Tony Suarez, a former religious adviser to Trump, tweeted over the weekend.
In an unprecedented show of religious unity, some 20 ecumenical and inter-religious leaders have joined together to call on the United States government to stop tearing families apart.
“As religious leaders representing diverse faith perspectives, united in our concern for the well-being of vulnerable migrants who cross our borders fleeing from danger and threats to their lives, we are deeply disappointed and pained to hear this news,” the joint statement reads.
“We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support human community and understand the household as an estate blessed by God. The security of the family provides critical mental, physical and emotional support to the development and wellbeing of children. Our congregations and agencies serve many migrant families that have recently arrived in the United States.
Leaving their communities is often the only option they have to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm. Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children.
As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families.”
The signatures attached to the powerful statement include the heads of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Reformed Church in America, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, International Council of Community Churches, Mennonite Church USA, Disciples of Christ and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, among several others.
Trump himself has continued to blame the Democrats for failing to secure the border, and has urged Congress to work together in order to improve the grave situation, which has resulted in thousands of children being held in immigration detention centers.
CNN’s Jake Tapper described Trump’s most recent remarks on the spiraling immigration policy as the “darkest” rhetoric since his campaign.
“Democrats are the problem,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!”
“Democrats love open borders – let the whole world come in!” Trump said mockingly in a speech at National Federation of Independent Business Tuesday. “MS-13, gang members from all over the place, come on in!”
“We are allowing these people into our country?” Trump added. “Not with me, we are taking them out by the thousands!”
While many lawmakers have sought to introduce emergency legislation to ensure families are kept together, so far no progress appears to have been made.
“What I’m asking Congress to do is to give us a third option which we have been requesting since last year – the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit,” Trump added. “We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis. We have to stop child smuggling, this is the way to do it.”
The provisions of a new piece of legislation introduced this week by Senator Ted Cruz entitled the “Protect Kids and Parents Act,” includes doubling the number of federal immigration judges, from roughly 375 to 750 as well as authorizing new temporary shelters with improved accommodations to keep families together.
But Trump disagrees with such action.
“Ultimately we have to have a real border, not judges. Thousands and thousands of judges they want to hire. Who are these people? When we vet a federal judge it is a huge process,” the president said. “What country does this?”