(CN) – A group of Democratic attorneys general from 20 states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday joined the growing chorus of dissent against the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from parents that try to enter the country illegally.
“The policy is not only inhumane, but it also raises serious concerns regarding the violation of children’s rights, constitutional principles of due process and equal protection, and the efforts of state law enforcement officials to stop crime,” according to a four-page letter sent to administration officials.
The correspondence, which came from the office of New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, is just the latest in a series of public attacks on the Department of Homeland Security’s policy to separate children from people crossing the border to seek asylum.
The situation was exacerbated on May 7, when U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government would begin prosecuting immigration violations as a criminal matter, rather than a civil one, justifying the separation of children from their parents.
The letter, which was sent to Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, calls for an end to the practice of separating families.
In addition to New Mexico, attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, The District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, all signed on.
“The Justice Department is ignoring its legal and moral obligations for the sake of a political agenda at the expense of children and the efforts of state law enforcement officials combating crimes like human trafficking, drug trafficking and gang violence which operate across international borders,” Balderas said in a statement. “The latest move to unnecessarily separate families is cruel and another example of this administration putting politics ahead of people.”
Meanwhile, a collection of 640 Methodists church leaders sent a formal letter of complaint to the pastors of Methodist churches in Washington, D.C. and Alabama that Sessions is known to attend.
The letter charges Sessions with child abuse, immorality and racism for his enforcement of the separation policy. The letter also charges Sessions withdDissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church, based on his claim that the Bible verse Romans 13, which calls for adherence to secular law, justifies the policy.
“Mr. Sessions – as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position – is particularly accountable to us, his church. He is ours, and we are his,” said the letter. “As his denomination, we have an ethical obligation to speak boldly when one of our members is engaged in causing significant harm in matters contrary to the discipline on the global stage.”
The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also sent out an open letter on Tuesday attacking the family separation policy.
“Immigrant families are being separated because the Department of Justice shifted its policy with regard to undocumented immigrants: immigrants suspected of crossing the border without documentation now face criminal prosecution, disallowing the parent to stay with the child. At its core, this policy is nonsensical and destructive,” wrote interim president Fernand Fernandez.
The American Civil Liberties Union is trying to fight the immigration policy in court. The civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of California in February on behalf of a woman from the Republic of Congo who had her 7-year-old taken away from her when she sought asylum in the United States.
The woman was reunited with her daughter about a month after her lawsuit was filed. Since then, the ACLU has expanded the lawsuit and is seeking class action status and a preliminary injunction against further family separations.
“There is a lifetime of trauma caused by this family separation policy,” said ACLU policy counsel Madhuri Grewal at a press teleconference on Tuesday.
Despite the blowback, President Donald Trump was undeterred in a speech he gave Tuesday before the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Trump argued that the current policy was necessary as a means to confront illegal immigration.
“We have no wall. We have no border security. Without a border, you don’t have a country,” said Trump, according to press pool reports. “Under current law, we have only two policy options to respond to this massive crisis. We can either release all immigrant families and minors who show up at the border from Central America. Or we can arrest the adults for the federal crime of illegal entries.”