The FAQs: What you should know about family separation at the border

June 19, 2018

What just happened?

Over the past six weeks, immigration officials have separated hundreds of migrant families who have either crossed into the United States illegally or have sought political asylum.

A change in immigration policy by the Trump administration is resulting in thousands of children being housed separately from their parents as they await adjudication. The children are being kept in separate facilities and are unable to see their parents for an indefinite period of time.

What is the policy causing the separation?

Until recently, families apprehended at the border were released together and sent back to their home country. Families were typically only separated if the parents were charged with a crime. In April, though, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced, “I have ordered each United States attorney’s office along the southwest border to have a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal entry. Our goal is to prosecute every case that is brought to us. There must be consequences for illegal actions.”

Illegal entry into the United States is a misdemeanor, while illegal re-entry is a felony. By being charged with the crime of illegal entry, the policy forces the children to be separated from the families while the adults await trial.

Why does the Trump administration claim the Democrats are to blame?

In commenting on the issue, President Trump said, “I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”

A few weeks ago, Trump’s senior policy adviser Stephen Miller explained that “their law” referred to two federal laws—the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 and the Flores Consent Decree of 1997.

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 is a bipartisan law signed by President George W. Bush that says unaccompanied children “are exempt from prompt return to their home country,” unless they come from Canada or Mexico. It does not require that families be separated at the border.

The Flores Consent Decree from 1997 (hereafter, Flores) sets a nationwide policy for the detention, release, and treatment of all minors in the custody of INS. Flores imposes several obligations on immigration authorities related to three broad categories:

1. The government is required to release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to—in order of preference—parents, other adult relatives, or licensed programs willing to accept custody.

2. If a suitable placement is not immediately available, the government is obligated to place children in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate to their age and any special needs.

3. The government must implement standards relating to the care and treatment of children in immigration detention.

The Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled in 2016 that Flores “unambiguously applies both to minors who are accompanied and unaccompanied by their parents.” The ruling also clarified that Flores does not require the release of accompanying parents.

The Flores ruling also does not require that families be separated at the border, though it could place limits on how long children are allowed to remain in custody while their parents seek asylum.

How many children have been separated from their parents?

According to internal Department of Homeland Security data, from April 19 to May 31 there have been 1,995 children taken from their parents at the border. That’s an average of roughly 48 kids per day separated from their families.

Those numbers, however, don’t include the families who presented themselves for asylum legally by coming to a port of entry and were also forcibly separated.

Who could change the policy?

Both the executive and legislative branches have the ability to stop the mandatory separation of parents from children occurring at the border.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions could, for instance, reverse his policy and simply send families who entered illegally back to their home country. Congress could also amend the law so that parents facing misdemeanor criminal proceedings solely for illegal entry could be allowed to stay with their children during the adjudication process.

Why was the policy to separate families implemented?

The Trump administration has given conflicting rationales for why they implemented a zero-tolerance policy that would necessitate family separations. But White House Chief of Staff John Kelly—who formerly headed up immigration enforcement as the Secretary of Homeland Security—implied that the effect was intentional.

In the effort to enforce U.S. border laws, “a big name of the game is deterrence,” Kelly said, adding that separating families “could be a tough deterrent.”

President Trump has also implied that he will use the separation issue as leverage to force Congressional Democrats to agree to his other immigration demands.

Did the White House cite Romans 13 in defending its policy?

Yes. In defending his zero-tolerance policy that separates families at the border, Attorney General Sessions referred to a passage from the apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “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.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also said, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

What does the passage in Romans 13 say about government?

In Romans 13:1-7, the apostle Paul writes,

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Is Session’s citation a legitimate use of Romans 13?

Many Christian leaders have stated that Sessions has misused or misconstrued the meaning of Romans 13. For example, Johnnie Moore, spokesman for President Trump’s informal evangelical advisory board, told The Washington Post, “While Sessions may take the Bible seriously, in this situation he has demonstrated he is no theologian.”

Jeff Session’s own denomination, the United Methodist Church, issued a statementcondemning the policy and misuse of Scripture. “To argue that these policies are consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation, and a shocking violation of the spirit of the Gospel,” the statement says.

Albert Mohler agrees that it was a “misuse” of the text but adds that it “wasn’t a complete misuse” but rather an “overuse of the text, an over-reading of the text, rather than an absolute negation of the text. Mohler says the critics of Sessions use of the passage are “absolutely right that Romans 13 does not argue that every law adopted by every government is right and is therefore to be defended in those terms.”

The passage about government in Romans 13, Mohler notes, requires respect for government and its rightful responsibility—and in the United States that means respect for our constitutional order. That does not mean satisfaction or absence of protest against the law if the law is unrighteous and unjust.”

And as a professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains, “Paul is saying, in effect, ‘Look, it’s true that Jesus is the ultimate Ruler of a cosmic kingdom while Caesar is only the temporary ruler of a limited earthly kingdom. But that doesn’t mean you’re above the law. You should be a good citizen and obey the law except, of course, when God’s law conflicts with Caesar’s law.’”

What Christian groups have opposed the policy?

Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, expressed the opinion of many American Christians when he told CBN, “It’s disgraceful. It’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity.” The policy has been publicly denounced by numerous other religious groups and denominations, including World Vision, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers).

“There’s definitely a groundswell of opposition from virtually every corner of the Christian community,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “People are able to understand immediately the drive of parents to protect their child and to understand the horror of splitting up vulnerable children from their parents.”

This article was originally published by The Gospel Coalition.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is the author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He also serves as an executive pastor at the McLean Bible Church Arlington location in Arlington, Virginia. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24