Religious groups and leaders call Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy sad, sinful and immoral

A Central American migrant with a child looks at the U.S. through the border wall in Tijuana.
(Hans-Maximo Musielik / Associated Press)

A day after Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions cited the Bible to defend the Trump administration’s immigration policies and the separation of children from their families, many faith-based leaders are forming coalitions, signing letters and issuing sharply worded statements against the policy.

“I would like to cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13,” Sessions said Thursday in a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind. He went on to say that the Bible argues Christians must “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”


The Trump administration has defended its “zero-tolerance” policy, which calls for the prosecution of everyone who illegally enters the U.S. and has led to separating parents from their children.

In the past, some immigration cases were handled administratively and families weren’t broken up.

“I hate to see the separation of parents and children,” Trump told reporters Friday, refusing to acknowledge that the separations are caused by his administration’s new policy. As he has in the past, he blamed Democrats, saying they “forced that law upon our nation,” triggering the separations.

On Friday, immigration officials said that in the last two months, 1,995 children had been separated from their guardians.

Republicans, as well as Democrats, have castigated the administration policy, calling it cruel, inhumane and unjust.

Even before Sessions’ mention of Scripture — which the White House defended but others called inappropriate — the new policy prompted objections from the religious community. Here’s what some religious institutions and prominent faith leaders have had to say about the policy and recent comments by the administration:

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, left, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press )

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the conference and archbishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas, called the administration’s policy an effort to “erode the capacity of asylum to save lives.”

“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,” DiNardo said in a statement released earlier in the week ahead of the group’s spring conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He added, “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.”

Similar sentiments were shared in panel discussions at the conference this week.

J. Brian Bransfield, a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the group’s general secretary, said Wednesday that “asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life.”

He added, “separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”

African Methodist Episcopal Church

The church’s Council of Bishops denounced the policy as “sad and sinful” on Friday and said it “shows a deep misunderstanding of the transforming truth of scripture.”


“The Bible does not justify discrimination masked as racism, sexism, economic inequality, oppression or the abuse of children,” the AME bishops said in a statement. “Jesus, who was an immigrant who had to leave the place of his birth and immigrate to Egypt because of an oppressive leader and system, admonishes all that the poor, children, the elderly, widows, and widowers should have a special place of justice and compassion in every nation.”

Participants bow in prayer at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas earlier this week.
(Vernon Bryant / Associated Press )

Southern Baptist Convention

During its annual convention in Dallas this week, the group, which has a fellowship of about 46,500 Baptist churches, passed a resolution calling for compassionate immigration policies for families.

“We desire to see immigration reform include an emphasis on securing our borders and providing a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures,” read the resolution.

The resolution went on to say that “maintaining the priority of family unity” is critical to immigration reform.

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

The group was among the first faith-based groups to assail the Trump administration policy.


In a statement released last month, the group said “the policy of separating migrant children from their parents is unconscionable.”

“Our Jewish tradition calls on us to welcome the stranger, to treat immigrants fairly, and to empathize with the widow, the stranger, and the orphan because we ourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt,” the statement said. “The inhumane treatment of migrant children and parents is a clear indication that the U.S. government has fallen far short of this standard. We all need to do better, lest this shameful chapter in our nation’s history come to define our future.”

Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham.
(Hau Dinh / Associated Press )

Franklin Graham

The influential evangelical leader was a staunch supporter of Trump during the 2016 election. At Trump’s January 2017 inauguration Graham gave a biblical reading.

Even so, he offered strong criticism of the administration’s policy.

“It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit,” Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, told the Christian Broadcasting Network on Tuesday.

The Revs. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis

The two are co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, a civil disobedience movement that aims to push the issue of poverty to the top of the national political agenda. The group is holding rallies nationwide this summer.


Barber, a Disciples of Christ pastor from North Carolina, and Theoharis, a Presbyterian minister from New York, said in a statement Friday that Sessions’ use of Scripture is “twisting the word of God in defense of immoral practices … a tactic used to justify keeping Black people in chattel slavery, committing genocide against Native Americans and segregating people under Jim Crow.”

They added, “His comments are anathema to any person of faith. And any politician who supports his position is an accessory to these crimes against children and humanity.”

Twitter: @kurtisalee