By DEB RIECHMANN
WASHINGTON (AP) – More than 600 members of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ church have denounced him over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has led to children being separated from their parents at the border.
Members of the United Methodist Church from across the country signed a letter Monday accusing Sessions of child abuse, immorality and racial discrimination. They also chided Sessions for using biblical scripture to defend the policy, saying it runs counter to the church’s doctrine.
Sessions also was blasted in a separate letter signed by 75 former U.S. attorneys from both parties, who want Sessions to end the family separation policy at the border. Their letter, published Monday on Medium, said the policy results in families and children being greeted “with unexpected cruelty at the doorstep of the United States.”
“Traumatizing children by separating them from their parents as a deterrent for adult conduct is, in our view, sufficient reason to halt your policy,” they wrote, adding that the legal work required to prosecute misdemeanor illegal entry cases takes away from more significant offenses like terror-related plots, corruption and human and drug trafficking.
“As former U.S. attorneys, we know that none of these consequences – nor the policy itself – is required by law. Rather, its implementation and its execution are taking place solely at your direction, and the unfolding tragedy falls squarely on your shoulders.”
The hundreds of United Methodist Church pastors and parishioners said holding thousands of young children in mass incarceration facilities and directing staff members to take children from their parents violates the Methodists’ Book of Discipline.
Addressing “church friends” in a speech last week, Sessions said: “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 the government for his purposes. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”
The Rev. David Wright, who spearheaded the complaint against Sessions, told USA Today that he hoped Methodist pastors could get Sessions to see the harm he is doing to immigrant children and persuade him to change his mind.
“My ideal outcome is that his pastors in church leadership who know him will speak with him,” he said, “and that in those conversations he will be challenged to think through the level of harm he is causing and have a change of heart – which is about as Methodist as you can get.”
The United Methodist bishop whose area includes Sessions’ home church in Mobile, Alabama, issued a statement Monday condemning the practice of pulling apart families, but without mentioning Sessions.
“I implore congress and the current administration to do all in their power to reunite these families,” said Bishop David Graves of the Alabama-West Florida Conference. “Changes to these laws need to be addressed starting today.”
Associated Press writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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