Catholic Leader Says Trump Administration Is 'Immoral' for Separating Families at Border

The President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has condemned the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border as "immoral" and hit out at a new policy shift making it more difficult for victims of violence to be granted asylum.

In a statement shared online, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said that "while protecting our borders is important" separating families is "not the answer."

"Families are the foundational element of society and they must be able to stay together," DiNardo said in his statement.

"While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety," he continued.

"Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and it is immoral," the cardinal added in the statement, which was released at the conference's spring meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

DiNardo also said Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent decision to overturn asylum protections for victims of domestic and gang violence "elicits deep concern," saying the move "potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection."

"Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives," DiNardo warned, asserting that asylum is an "instrument to preserve the right to life."

In a 31-page June 11 ruling, Sessions overturned a decision to grant asylum to a Salvadoran woman seeking refuge in the U.S. after fleeing physical and sexual assault from her husband.

Read more: Trump administration restricts asylum for 'most vulnerable' victims of violence

The move set a new precedent, which Sessions told immigration judges he expected them to maintain, while speaking at an annual Executive Office for Immigration Review Legal Training Program meeting on Monday.

The attorney general insisted that the asylum system is being "abused to the detriment of the rule of law" and lamented how "saying a few simple words—claiming a fear of return—is now transforming a straightforward arrest for illegal entry and immediate return into a prolonged legal process, where an alien may be released from custody into the United States and possibly never show up for an immigration hearing."

He said an asylum applicant "seeking to establish persecution based on violent conduct of a private actor must show more than the government's difficulty controlling private behavior."

"The applicant must show that the government condoned the private actions or demonstrated an inability to protect the victims," Sessions added.

Urging courts and policymakers to "respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life," DiNardo said that unless Sessions' decision is overturned, "vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country."

He added that the ruling "negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence."

In his speech to immigration lawyers, Sessions maintained that "no country provides its citizens with complete security from private criminal activity, and perfect protection is not required."