White House press secretary Sarah Sanders urged religious groups on Monday to “open their doors” to undocumented families, after several prominent conservative evangelicals criticized the Trump administration for separating children from their parents at the border.
“I think any evangelical, or any church for that matter, that feels strongly about that, should open their doors and facilitate some of these individuals,” Sanders told reporters during a tense late afternoon briefing.
“That’s their calling, and if they want to change the laws they should call their members of Congress,” she added.
The White House has defended its zero tolerance policy of prosecuting all adults who illegally enter the U.S., and separating them from their children in the process if they arrived together, as a necessary step toward protecting Americans and deterring illegal border crossings.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked Romans 13, a biblical verse on divinely delegated authority and civil obedience, at a conference last week to defend the administration’s controversial immigration practices. And Sanders told reporters last Friday: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”
But some of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters have distanced themselves from the president’s immigration policies in recent weeks, using words like “disgraceful” and “immoral” to describe family separations happening at the border.
“It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit,” Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, told the Christian Broadcasting Network last Tuesday.
“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.
One current member of Trump’s evangelical council, Jentezen Franklin, said the administration was playing “dangerous” games by taking “selections of scriptures and say[ing], ‘The Bible was written to justify political standings.'”
“The Bible was never written as a political road map,” Franklin said.
Senior administration officials have claimed that only Congress can fix the current flaws in U.S. immigration law that encourage families to cross the border illegally or pay human smugglers to bring their children into the country.
“It is the exclusive product of loopholes in our immigration laws,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday. “These loopholes create a functionally open border.”