The Rev. Misael Avila of St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Riverbank joined faith leaders in Stanislaus County and throughout the country denouncing the Trump Administration's zero tolerance illegal immigration policy, which has separated about 2,000 children from their families housed in makeshift border patrol detention centers.
"The Trump Administration wants to make you believe that they are just enforcing the law when, in fact, there is no law that says children should be separated from their parents," Avila said Monday. "It’s just another lie from this administration."
A group of congressional lawmakers on Sunday visited an old warehouse in South Texas, where hundreds of children are being held in cages created by metal fencing. One cage held 20 youths, the Associated Press reported.
Avila said immigration laws can be enforced in a more compassionate way. He said previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have enforced the law by keeping detained parents and their children together.
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President Donald Trump on Monday said that children "are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth" as a way to enter the United States, the Associated Press reported.
"The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility," Trump said. "Not on my watch."
Faith in the Valley is a multi-faith nonprofit group of congregations that offers help to under-served residents in Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin, Fresno and Kern counties. Avila, speaking on behalf of his parish and the Stanislaus chapter of Faith in the Valley, said Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy is simply dividing families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It just breaks my heart to see children being separated from their parents," Avila said. "There is simply no justification for it."
In defending the policy on Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible "... in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order."
Sessions recently announced a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to prosecuting those arrested for illegally entering the country. Nearly 2,000 children were taken from their parents over a six-week period in April and May.
Avila said Sessions conveniently attempts to justify this policy with the Bible citation, which talks about obeying the law rooted in love. He said he doesn't see any love in separating innocent children from their parents.
"If our local representatives in Congress don’t do their job by courageously denouncing this unjust policy that rips apart our families and communities, we should hold them accountable on Nov. 6 when we vote,” Avila said.
Rep. Jeff Denham told CNN: "Not only is the current policy unacceptable, but the optics of pulling kids away from their parents is horrible for any party." The Turlock Republican is running for re-election in November in the 10th Congressional District, which covers Stanislaus County and the southern part of San Joaquin County.
Nick Lorenzetti of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Modesto said there was anger and sadness Monday from clergy, priests and deacons over the separation of immigrant children detained. Lorenzetti was attending a Latino ministry conference in Los Angeles hosted by the National Episcopal Church.
"My initial reaction was that I cried," he said. "I stared at a picture of a young child that was shown to me at the conference; a child about 5 to 6 years old, staring out through the cell in which he had been locked."
The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin in October launched a task force to help immigrants fearing deportation. Lorenzetti said the faith leaders at the ministry conference, mostly from California, Texas, Nevada, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, and Guatemala, are determined to return to their churches and raise awareness about the crisis at the border until children are united with their families.
"We are losing the very soul of our country," Lorenzetti said about the crisis at the border.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen responded to those accusing her department of inhumane and immoral actions, the Associated Press reported.
"Illegal actions have and must have consequences," she said. "No more free passes, no more get out of jail free cards."
Leading U.S. Catholic bishops last week called the Trump Administration's new asylum-limiting rules "immoral," The Washington Post reported.
Andy Levine of Faith in the Valley said the "zero tolerance" policy is just the Trump's Administration's latest attempt to terrorize and intimidate immigrants who already are here and making the country better.
"The images and videos we are seeing of children ripped from their parents at the border are heartbreaking and infuriating," Levine said.
But he also said he's encouraged by leaders from a variety of faiths and denominations denouncing the policy, and "rebuking the shameful attempt to use scripture as justification."