Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended his use of Romans 13 in support of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, adding that "we never really intended" the separation of over 2,000 immigrant children from their families.
In an exclusive interview with the Christan Broadcasting Network Thursday, Sessions responded to the outcry over his referencing of the words of the Apostle Paul in order to bolster the controversial "zero-tolerance" policy, which separated some families at the border the United States shares with Mexico. President Trump scrapped the practice via an executive order this week, but courts may throw it out and Congress remains divided on the best possible legislative fix.
"I don't think it was an extreme position that I took," the Attorney General told CBN's David Brody.
"I directed it not to say that religion requires these laws on immigration. I just simply said to my Christian friends, 'You know, the United States has laws and I believe that Paul was clear in Romans that we should try to follow the laws of government of which we are a part.'"
He added that he believed that a lawful immigration system is a "moral, decent and just" thing for a nation to have.
"I'm not aware of a single nation in the world that doesn't have some sort of rules about who can enter and who cannot enter. I believe there is biblical support for that, too."
Sessions, a United Methodist, has come under strong criticism from his own church for his approach to these issues, specifically his use of the New Testament to support it.
In a June 14 speech before law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana Sessions referred to Romans 13 while defending the Justice Department's "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses U.S.-Mexico border and separating children from their families.
"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," Sessions said at the time.
Critics have noted that the passage of Scripture he cited has in the past been used to justify all kinds of atrocities. Earlier this week over 600 United Methodist pastors and church members accused Sessions of child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and furthering teachings against the standards of his denomination in a formal complaint.
"I have critics from a lot of different areas. I think our church people are really concerned about children — that's what I'm hearing," Sessions told CBN.
"I feel it. I think there's a legitimate concern there and I'm pleased to work with the president to address those concerns."
The Attorney General insisted that the plan is not to detain illegal immigrant families in centers at the border indefinitely since "we can't hold and we will not be holding people for extended periods of time awaiting a hearing on asylum."
Sessions also claimed that he never intended to separate children from their families.
"It hasn't been good and the American people don't like the idea that we are separating families. We never really intended to do that. What we intended to do, was to make sure that adults who bring children into the country are charged with the crime they have committed," he told CBN.
But in a May 7 speech announcing the zero tolerance policy, Sessions said, "If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border."
Some confusion over the administration's former family separation policy stems from the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which states that children can only be detained for 20 days before they're released to the Department of Health and Human Services.