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story.lead_photo.caption Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., holds his weekly news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 12, 2018.

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border even as the White House cited the Bible in defending its "zero tolerance" approach to illegal border crossings.

"I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible," said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. "It's a moral policy to follow and enforce the law."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had earlier cited the Bible in his defense of the border policy that has resulted in hundreds of children being separated from their parents. Speaking Thursday in Fort Wayne, Ind., 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."

The comments came as House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans said they were not comfortable with family separations, which spiked dramatically after the Justice Department adopted a policy in April of referring all illegal border crossers for prosecution.

"We don't want kids to be separated from their parents," Ryan said Thursday.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., tweeted Thursday that he told a constituent that, "I am asking the White House to keep families together as much as we can."

In a series of exchanges in the White House briefing room, Sanders blamed Democrats for the policy separating children from parents.

"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.

Ryan and other GOP lawmakers said they are seeking to resolve the problem in a compromise immigration bill. A draft of that bill released Thursday would keep children with their families while they are in Homeland Security Department custody.

Ryan claimed Thursday that the family-separation policy is being dictated by a court ruling that prevents children who enter the country illegally from being held in custody for long periods.

But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi pushed back on that assessment, saying that President Donald Trump could "stop the practice on a dime."

She called the Trump administration's separation policy "barbaric," adding: "It has to stop."

The family separations are occurring as a result of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy for those entering the country illegally. Under the directive, families crossing the border are routinely referred for criminal prosecution. Previously, families were often sent to civil deportation proceedings, which allow children to remain with their parents.

During the criminal proceedings, the children are usually released to other family members or foster care.

Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., said he's "heartbroken" by the separations and is working to find a solution to keep families together. His comments were in response to a letter from local officials urging him to demand that the Department of Homeland Security end the practice.

"As a father to two young girls it is unimaginable what these parents are suffering," Yoder said.

The White House provided some media groups with a tour of a former Wal-Mart near the border in Texas that houses several hundred immigrant children.

The tour was tightly controlled, and the Health and Human Services Department did not allow any photographs or video or interviews, instead releasing a government-produced video of the shelter.

The Associated Press declined to participate in the tour, which came after a Democratic senator tried to enter a federal facility in Texas where immigrant children are being held. Police were called, and Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon was told to leave.

Merkley said he was able to enter another facility used for processing migrants and run by the Department of Homeland Security. He said he saw men, women and children crowded in cages.

"It reminds me a little bit of a dog kennel, constructed of cyclone fencing," Merkley said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also weighed in, saying U.S. officials have discretion to keep families intact. "Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral," said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops group.

The cardinal's rebuke is what drew the response from Sessions, who insists the policy of separating families is necessary to deter illegal border-crossings.

Historically, immigrants without serious criminal records have been released from custody while they pursued asylum or refugee status. The Trump administration has moved to detain more people, including asylum seekers.

Lawmakers are considering several ideas to prevent family separations.

If Republicans really wanted to tackle the issue of separating families, they could bring a bill to the House floor on an expedited basis, Pelosi said, adding that she sees no prospect for a legislative fix in the Republican-controlled Congress in an election year.

Ryan, R-Wis., said the House would vote next week on two competing immigration measures but said he "won't guarantee passage."

He said Trump backs the GOP efforts to find a compromise.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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  • Toenails
    June 14, 2018 at 4:57 p.m.

    We separate children from their parents every day in this country when a parent is incarcerated. Does P. Ryan care about American citizens whose children are separated from them because the parents go to prison for non-violent crimes? Why does he care more about illegal aliens than American citizens? Is it because he is in the pocket of corporate
    America and the bigwigs who want cheap labor so they favor open borders and lots of low-skilled workers who will work for peanuts?

  • 23cal
    June 14, 2018 at 5:20 p.m.

    "Attorney General Jeff Sessions insists the policy of separating families is necessary to deter illegal border-crossings."
    No, it isn't necessary, and it is bereft of humanity.
    What evil is this administration visiting upon our country? As Welch said to Joe McCarthy, "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? "

  • LRCrookAttorney
    June 14, 2018 at 5:33 p.m.

    As long as someone is breaking the law, and their children did not (not the case here, unless of course too young to know), then separate them. The law broken here is ILLEGALLY crossing the border, so, either separate them or turn them around, point them in the right direction and give them paperwork (in Spanish if necessary) showing them the legal way to cross and send them back. I have too many friends, from graduate school, that waited for years to come here legally, for these yahoos to think sneaking across is okay. Either repeal immigration laws and remove border control or enforce the laws. To think any other way is completely and totally asinine.
    Finally, why does everyone say there is a problem with the immigration laws? I hear it on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, I read it in papers and online, but not once (and I mean NEVER) has anyone ever said how immigration laws are poorly written. The only problem I see is that it takes an act of Congress to remove someone here illegally. Also, we know who most are that have overstayed their VISAs, just pick them up. I don't understand the outcry for people that are trying to cross the border illegally. The same people never yell out about sending people to prison or (as in Saline County Jail) holding them for months and years (while charging them for food and conversations with family), then releasing them for time served when that time is much more than their sentence. Saline County Jail is a money making business and they create more and more ways to increase the pot every day.

  • mozarky2
    June 14, 2018 at 6:12 p.m.

    23, the evil being visited on this country is the illegal invasion of poor, uneducated, sometimes violent aliens who bleed our generous resources dry. There needs to be serious disincentives for these parasites.
    Now, you support leaving children in adult detention centers. What a stupid idea!
    But stupid ideas are what "progs" do best.

  • JakeTidmore
    June 14, 2018 at 6:51 p.m.

    There is only one evil here: Donald Trump and his malicious government. What stupid ideas these rightwing hatemongers are inflicting on our nation. I hope the final words to the national anthem - "the land of the free and the home of the brave" - do not choke the hypocrites not running and ruining this country.
    John Ch 8:4-5 -- They said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.
    Hosea 10:13 -- You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors
    I am reminded of the Nazis on trial after the war who defended their wicked actions by saying they were only obeying orders or "following the law." In Sessions, Sanders and the commenters here I see the same sorry excuse-making.
    I hope that Christians and Americans continue to denounce this ugly and hateful work. To not do so is to deny your heritage and your humanity.
    Am done. I will not sully myself any further with the words of hatred from my brothers and sisters who support this evil practice. If you have a conscience, do not let those without one poison your mind on this issue.

  • NoUserName
    June 14, 2018 at 6:57 p.m.

    LRA: "Finally, why does everyone say there is a problem with the immigration laws?"
    Immigration laws themselves? No. The bureaucracy and dealing with the State Department, yes. The majority of illegals came here legally. It's easy to have a VISA expire while you're spending years trying to become a citizen. We make it a lot harder than it needs to be. And last I had to deal with the department, they wouldn't answer questions by phone or email. Had to send via snail mail.
    On the other hand...this is in the news because of the pizza delivery guy who was recently arrested at the military base. THAT guy apparently defied a judge's order to leave and then proceeded to get married and start a family. As someone who generally gives illegals wide lattitude, I'm not sure I'm opposed to deporting him.

  • CartoonDude
    June 14, 2018 at 9:47 p.m.

    Multiple administrations have ignored federal immigration law for so long, we are shocked when a president actually respects the law enough to enforce it. If you detain parents, you can't incarcerate the children in the adult facility. It isn't safe.

  • dearlo
    June 15, 2018 at 12:25 a.m.

    JackT I aso agree. I'm 65o been around long enough to remember evey year when the Migrants came and picked our cottton,veges and crops. They milked cow claned houses, babysit+ any other things. They got feed and place to stay a were paid a small amount that they sent home to their families. Everyone knew and the republiecons got richer and richer That all is a fact! LRAtor I agree with some of what you say BUT if you know the right people you are in, yes even when you overstayed ur Visa You can even go to the head of the line and we pay for them to go to school. Do we pay for ours? if they STOP putting non violent MJ smokers and others who proably don;'eserve to be arested there would be plenty of room in our jails for realimanels. That will never happen because the attorneys need to suck all the money out of the middle and lower class they can. We have a goverment of thieves and liars and I think we are doomed. When a whole country dosen't care about anyone but themselfs and who and what they own, well just realy really sad. Spell check not worked so here it is anyway. Past time

  • mrcharles
    June 15, 2018 at 12:06 p.m.

    There are those in our own country too who today speak of the "protection of country" -- of "survival." A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient -- to look the other way.
    Well, the answer to that is "survival as what?" A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!
    Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

    To the gop:

    Scorn and defiance; slight regard, contempt,
    And any thing that may not misbecome
    The mighty sender, doth I prize you at.

    AMOS: 5:10 They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly. 11 Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.

    12 For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. 13 Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time. 14 Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. 15 Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate:

  • mozarky2
    June 15, 2018 at 12:26 p.m.

    mrschurlish, aka Gabby Johnson spouts more gibberish...who can forget his immortal words upon Obama's election: "The new president is a-CLANG"!