Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders says it's "biblical to enforce the law" after Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked Bible to defend the Trump administration's immigration policies leading to children being separated from their parents.

Immigrants who turned themselves in to border patrol agents after illegally crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. wait to be transported for processing in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, on April 2, 2018.
Immigrants who turned themselves in to border patrol agents after illegally crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. wait to be transported for processing in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, on April 2, 2018. (Reuters)

The White House on Thursday defended the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their family members detained at the US-Mexico border as a way to deter illegal crossings.

"I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law," said spokeswoman Sarah Sanders in response to a question about the morality of splitting up families.

"You're a parent! Don't you have any empathy?" cried Brian Karem, a reporter for Playboy Magazine. "They come to the border with nothing, and you throw children in cages."

Sanders chastised him for asking a question out of turn and accused him of trying to get more television air time.

Nearly 1,800 immigrant families were separated at the US-Mexico border from October 2016 through February of this year, according to a senior government official, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

In May, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a 'zero tolerance' policy in which all those apprehended entering the United States illegally would be criminally charged, which generally leads to children being separated from their parents.

'God has ordained'

Speaking on Thursday in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sessions pointed to a verse in the Book of Romans on obeying the laws of government, saying, "God has ordained them for the purpose of order."

In an unusually tense series of exchanges in the White House briefing room, Sanders blamed Democrats for the policy separating children from parents and wrongly insisted the administration had made no changes increasing the tactics' use.

"The separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade, and the president is simply enforcing them," she said.

Temporary shelter to come up in Texas

The US government will open a temporary shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children in far west Texas, as existing facilities for children reach capacity under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy on migrants and the resulting separation of families.

A spokesman for the US Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday that the department selected the Tornillo port of entry as a temporary shelter location. 

The port is located about 64 kilometers southeast of El Paso, in an area that's mostly desert and where temperatures routinely approach 37 degrees Celsius.

The facility will be able to accommodate up to 360 children in "the next few days," said the spokesman, Kenneth Wolfe.

5,000 health professionals write to Trump administration

Meanwhile, over 5,000 health professionals have signed a letter to the Trump administration calling for an immediate end to family separation at the border, citing medical forensic evidence of trauma. 

"It should not be US policy to traumatise children, and especially not as a form of indirect punishment of their parents," the letter reads.

The letter was circulated and sent to the Trump administration by Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based advocacy organisation. 

“Forced separation of children and parents, especially in connection with the detention of a parent, can constitute an adverse childhood experience, which research links with disrupted neurodevelopment, resulting in social, emotional, and cognitive impairment, and even negative intergenerational effects," the letter adds.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies