Jeff Sessions says the Bible justifies separating children from illegal immigrant parents at US border

Jeff Sessions quoted Romans - Getty Images North America
Jeff Sessions quoted Romans - Getty Images North America

Jeff Sessions, the US attorney general, defended separating children from their parents at the Mexican border by invoking a Biblical verse previously used to argue in favour of slavery.

According to US Customs and Border Protection more than 650 children were taken away from their parents in a two-week period in May after the families were caught sneaking into America illegally.

It was part of a new "zero tolerance" policy Mr Sessions announced last month to detain and prosecute all illegal immigrants, ending so-called "catch and release" under which they were released while awaiting court proceedings.

Children are being held separately from their parents with hundreds of them currently in a former Wal-Mart store in Texas that has been converted into a detention facility.

Border crossers - Credit: Getty
Border crossers being taken into custody in Texas Credit: Getty

Groups campaigning on behalf of illegal immigrants publicised cases including one in which a woman from Honduras claimed her baby daughter was removed from her while she was breastfeeding.

It was also claimed that a father was separated from his four month-old baby, prosecuted and deported, leaving the baby in a US detention facility.

Donald Trump, the US president, blamed Democrats, for the situation, saying he was enforcing laws that were already in existence.

In an impromptu interview with Fox News on the White House lawn, Mr Trump said: "He (Mr Sessions) is following laws that were given us, and forced upon us, by the Democrats."

He added: "I want the laws to be beautifully humane but strong. I don't want bad people coming in."

However, Mr Trump said he would not sign a "moderate" immigration bill being worked on by Republicans in Congress.

 A boy and father from Honduras are taken into custody - Credit: Getty
A boy and father from Honduras are taken into custody Credit: Getty

He said: "I need a bill that gives tremendous security. We have to have  wall."

Mr Sessions said criticisms of his policy were not "fair or logical".

The attorney general added: "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.

"Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful."

Critics seized on the history of the same verse being used by defenders of slavery in the US South, Nazi rule in Germany, and apartheid in South Africa.

John Fea, an American history professor at Messiah College, Pennsylvania, told the Washington Post: "This is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made." Religious leaders also condemned the policy.

Evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham and a fervent supporter of Mr Trump, called it "disgraceful".The US Conference of Catholic Bishops called it "immoral".

Paul Ryan, the Republican House Speaker, also said he did not support it, adding: "We don't want kids to be separated from their parents."

However, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said it was very biblical to enforce the law." 

It came as Mr Trump declared the US nuclear stand-off with North Korea "largely solved" and said he had given Kim Jong-un his telephone number.

Mr Trump said: "I have solved that problem. I can now call him. I gave him a very direct number."

The US president joked that when Kim "speaks his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same". He later explained he was "kidding".

Mr Trump also disputed findings by the Justice Department, in a 5-page report, that former FBI Director James Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe was not politically motivated.

He said the FBI was biased "at the top level" and "plotting against my election". Mr Trump added: "Comey was the ring leader of this whole den of thieves. It was a den of thieves."