Immigrant Children Separated From Parents 'Well Cared for at Taxpayer Expense,' Jeff Sessions Says

In an attempt to defend his zero tolerance approach to immigration and the subsequent family separations at the U.S. border, Jeff Session told church leaders that at least "we are not sending children to jail with their parents."

"We currently spend more than $1 billion a year in taxpayer dollars taking care of unaccompanied illegal alien minors," he said in a speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Thursday, where he justified the Trump administration's immigration policies.

"They are provided food, education in their native language, health and dental care, and transported to their destination city—all at taxpayer expense."

Sessions then blamed the parents trying to cross the border for putting their children in harm's way. "There's only one way to stop this, and that is for people to stop smuggling children. Stop crossing the border illegally with your children. Apply to enter lawfully. Wait your turn," he said.

In May, the attorney general announced that the Justice Department would criminally prosecute anyone trying to enter the country illegally, even if they were first-time offenders or crossing the border with small children.

The move instantly received criticism from church leaders, who see the family unit as an essential part of society.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, an American cardinal in the Catholic Church, responded in a statement Wednesday, saying that "our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society, and they must be able to stay together."

The Evangelical Immigration Table wrote a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to "resolve this situation of families being separated," saying the policy went against the Bible's teachings about family.

During the White House press briefing on Thursday, a CNN reporter asked press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to weigh in on the matter, saying, "Come on, Sarah, you're a parent. Don't you have any empathy for what these people are going through?"

Sanders did not answer the question and accused the reporter of seeking more exposure on television.