After Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward adults who illegally cross the border with Mexico into the United States in April, over two thousand children have been separated and detained in facilities apart from their parents. Many religious leaders and cultural figures have responded with outrage. Texas lawmakers have spoken publicly about the issue: many elected officials from both sides of the aisle have condemned the policy as inhumane and implored President Donald Trump to act immediately, while some have called on Democrats to compromise on a solution.
We’ve compiled responses from leaders across Texas and the nation below.
Note: We’ll update this list as more public figures speak about the policy.
On June 17, former first lady Laura Bush wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post decrying the policy. “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
Let’s be clear – tearing children away from their parents is but a logical extension of this administration’s immigration policy – a policy already steeped in cruelty and fueled by racism and demagoguery.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) June 18, 2018
“What’s going on at our southern border is outrageous,” said Willie Nelson to Rolling Stone on June 14. “Christians everywhere should be up in arms. What happened to ‘Bring us your tired and weak and we will make them strong’? This is still the promise land.”
Governor Greg Abbott criticized the situation at the border and urged Democrats to work with Trump to find a solution. “This is horrible and it rips everybody’s heart apart about what is going on,” he said to NBC5 on June 15. “The president actually was talking about it this morning, even he was ripped apart about what is going on. He was adamant, he said, listen, if the Democrats would agree with him right now, they could pass a law today that would end the ripping apart of these families and make the border secure.”
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick voiced a similarly measured sentiment on Fox News on June 15. “In terms of families, we want to keep families together, but that cannot be an excuse to break our laws.”
Senator John Cornyn issued a press release against the policy on June 18. “We have to keep family members together and prevent unnecessary hardship, stress, and outrage,” it reads. Cornyn also stated that he plans to reintroduce the HUMANE Act, a bill that he introduced in 2014 concerning the processes surrounding undocumented minors.
“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers. This must stop. Now,” reads a press release from Senator Ted Cruz, released on June 18. He also introduced the Protect Kids and Parents Act, designed to keep families together through the immigration process.
Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Cruz for his Senate seat, spoke out forcibly against the policy. “This is inhumane. I’d like to say it’s un-American, but it’s happening right now in America. And it is on all of us, not just the Trump administration. This is on all of us,” said O’Rourke on CNN State of the Union on June 17. (Read Texas Monthly‘s Q&A with O’Rourke after he led hundreds of protesters on a march to the new tent encampment housing immigrant children in Tornillo this weekend.)
“This is not a binary choice between rampant crime and tearing families apart,” wrote Texas House Speaker Joe Straus in a letter to President Trump on June 19. “In light of the potential harm being inflicted on these children and the ambiguity about their status after they’re removed from these facilities, I ask that you please immediately rescind directives that have resulted in the increase in separations of children from their migrant parents.” (Read more about Straus’s letter here.)
Many Democratic Texas representatives have vehemently spoken out against the policy.
Several Members of Congress & I marched with @RepGutierrez to Customs & Border Patrol HQ to protest the separation of children from their families at the border. We must speak truth to power & denounce the wrongs of this administration at all costs. #FamiliesBelongTogether pic.twitter.com/2t6reriyeB
— Congressman Al Green (@RepAlGreen) June 13, 2018
Today I joined Members of Congress to visit the McAllen Border Patrol Station. We are calling on the administration to end the 'zero-tolerance' policy that is separating immigrant families, right here in #TX15. This is an injustice and un-American. #FathersDayofAction pic.twitter.com/oPDOph13DU
— Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (@RepGonzalez) June 17, 2018
As @JulianCastro said yesterday, Trump’s brutal family separation policy is state-sponsored child abuse. https://t.co/UNg7sTUHux
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) June 19, 2018
Some Texas Republican representatives also spoke against the policy, although many have stayed silent on the issue.
“We should not be using kids as a deterrent policy. This is something I think is actually unacceptable and is something that, as Americans, we shouldn’t be doing . . . This really isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an issue about how should you treat children,” said representative Will Hurd on CNN on June 16.
“It’s very unfortunate for these children that their parents chose to break the law, but young children should not be separated from their parents,” read a press release from representative John Culberson on June 18.
On June 19, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner spoke forcefully against it.
My news conference on the recent immigration policy changes: We are opposed to the unjust and immoral practice of separating innocent children from their parents. #KeepFamiliesTogether
— Sylvester Turner (@SylvesterTurner) June 19, 2018
Faith leaders from a wide range of denominations across the country have denounced the zero tolerance policy.
“At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and archbishop of Galveston-Houston, on June 13. “We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.”
“It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit,” said Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and longtime supporter of President Trump.
Twenty interfaith leaders, including Reverend Doctor John C. Dorhauer, the president of the United Church of Christ; Reverend Elizabeth A. Eaton, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of Union for Reform Judaism; Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America; and Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church (who gave a sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) signed a statement directly criticizing the policy on June 7. “Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children. As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families,” reads the statement.
On June 12, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution at its Dallas meeting calling for immigration reform “maintaining the priority of family unity.”
“As head of the Executive Branch of the federal government, we are writing to ask you to resolve this situation of families being separated that you have rightly described as ‘horrible,’ ” reads a letter sent to the president on June 1 from eight evangelical leaders, including Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, who read scripture at Trump’s inauguration.
“We must not punish desperate parents by tearing their children away from them, leaving the parents without access to the children or assurance of their welfare. In the name of God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stop!” reads a letter from Reverend Doctor J. Herbert Nelson II, clerk of Presbyterian Church USA, on June 16.
The United Methodist Church, of which Sessions is a member, spoke out vehemently against the policy on June 15. Over six hundred United Methodists filed a formal denominational complaint against Sessions on June 18.
The Sikh Coalition, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Agudath Israel (an Orthodox Jewish organization), and a group of western Buddhists have condemned the policy.
After Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 to defend the policy, several religious organizations spoke out criticizing his usage of the Bible verse. “No responsible Christian theologian would assert that Romans 13, or any other passage in the Bible, supports the horrific separation of children from parents that we are witnessing at the present time,” wrote Reverend Doctor Lee B. Spitzer, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, on June 16. “The Bible does not justify cruel, dangerous and inhumane border enforcement practices,” said Diane Randall, Executive Secretary for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby, on June 15. “It teaches us to love our neighbors, not to break up families. We are critical of the use of Biblical teachings to justify an immoral political decision of this Administration.”
Over 2,500 female faith leaders, including the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and fifteen women bishops of the United Methodist Church, signed an open letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen demanding an end to the policy on June 6.
A group of local and national faith groups created Stop Family Separation, a campaign rejecting the policy and helping Americans “advocate for an end to our nation’s inhumane treatment of our vulnerable brothers and sisters. “It is a moral outrage that our nation is tearing children from their parents’ arms and sending families back to danger,” reads the site. “There is no moral ambiguity here.”
Pastor Mark Burns, Trump’s faith advisor, blamed “the Left and #FakeNews [for] making such a big deal” on June 18.
I don't understand why the Left & #FakeNews is making such a big deal over Children being separated from a parent, WHO'S BREAKING THE LAW, at the border. Drug bust takes place in America EVERYDAY with kids present. Parent arrested, Child taken away by Child Protective Services.
— Pastor Mark Burns (@pastormarkburns) June 18, 2018
A bipartisan group of over 75 former U.S. attorneys have called on Sessions to stop the policy. “As former United States Attorneys, we also emphasize that the Zero Tolerance policy is a radical departure from previous Justice Department policy, and that it is dangerous, expensive, and inconsistent with the values of the institution in which we served,” reads the letter. The signees include Ken Magidson, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, who wrote in an editorial in the Houston Chronicle that the issue is not legal but moral.
“The systemic practice of separating parents and children is antithetical to our values as a country, appears to violate longstanding precedent protecting rights to family integrity, burdens the federal criminal justice and immigration adjudication systems and increases costs to the government,” reads an open letter to Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen from the American Bar Association.
American Airlines, United Airlines, and Frontier Airlines have spoken out against the policy, asking that the federal government not use their planes to transport immigrant children separated from their parents. “We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it,” reads a statement from American Airlines on June 20.
United asks U.S. government not to fly separated immigrant children on our aircraft. pic.twitter.com/MPPbhO6aqV
— United Airlines (@united) June 20, 2018
Frontier prides itself on being a family airline and we will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families. At this time, we are not aware if Frontier has been used for this purpose.
— Frontier Airlines (@FlyFrontier) June 20, 2018