Department of Homeland Security officials on Friday flatly denied a widely reported allegation that border authorities forcibly separated a breastfeeding baby from her mother while she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally.
“We do not separate babies from adults,” a DHS official told reporters during a background briefing. “It’s a bright line.”
CNN first reported that an illegal immigrant from Honduras claimed federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child at an immigration detention center in McAllen, Texas, on Tuesday. The CNN report was picked up by several national media outlets, including the Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and Vox, sparking further condemnation of the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families caught crossing the border illegally.
The CNN report did not quote the mother herself, but rather an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project who had reportedly interviewed the woman. A Customs and Border Protection spokesman denied the allegations in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
“Nothing could be further from the truth and these allegations are unsubstantiated,” the spokesman, Carlos Diaz, told CNN in an email.
DHS officials reiterated that denial on Friday, telling reporters the claim was false and that department officials have been working to investigate the circumstances surrounding the allegation.
Also Friday, the Department of Justice confirmed that 1,995 migrant children were separated from 1,940 adults from April 19 through May 31. The adults in that group were prosecuted for illegal entry, immigration violations, and in some cases, other criminal conduct. DOJ officials did not release a breakdown of the children’s ages or the charges brought against the adults.
The family separations stem from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting as many cases of illegal entry as possible, regardless of whether the defendant was crossing the border with children. The policy has been denounced by immigration activists and religious groups, who have called it a cruel exercise of prosecutorial authority. (RELATED: Bishop Of Tucson Calls For Canonical Penalties For Catholics Involved In Separating Families At Border)
Sessions defended the policy on Friday, arguing that the Bible chapter Romans 13 instructs Christians 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,” Sessions said in a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The family separation figures released Friday are for migrants who jumped the border between official ports of entry, DOJ officials said. Family units who present themselves at the ports are not separated, except in cases where border officials can’t confirm the relationship between the child and the adult, or if there is some concern about the child’s safety.
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