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Catholic Leader Calls Separating Mothers And Children At Border 'Immoral'

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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/CNN) – The top leaders of the Catholic Church are in Fort Lauderdale this week.

Many of them are furious over the White House policy of separating children from their parents at the border with Mexico.

Catholic Bishops
Leaders of the Catholic Church speak at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops - Spring General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale. (Source: CBS4)

The president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized President Donald Trump's administration over immigration policy on Wednesday, declaring that separating mothers and children at the US border is "immoral."

These discussions will lead to shaping a Washington strategy that will be aimed at the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and congress.

"We are not just dealing with the government and administration, we are trying to work with congress," Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the organization, said. "They have a role to play in this too."

Late Thursday the Trump Administration faced the separation of families issue straight on.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders took tough questions from reporters on the topic. She had a heated back-and-fourth with CNN's Jim Acosta.

SS- "The president is simply enforcing the law."

JA- "Is it the policy to take children away from parents?"

SS- "It is our policy to enforce the law."

JA- "Why is the government doing this?"

SS- "Because it is the law and that's what the law states."

That wasn't the only tough exchange Sanders faced.

Another reporter continued to ask Sanders to respond, appealing to her being a parent. She refused to answer.

"Don't you have any empathy? Come on Sarah, you are a parent. Any empathy for what these parents are going through?"

She simply responded "settle down" before moving on to the next question.

DiNardo said in a statement Wednesday, "Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. 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. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral."

CNN reported in May that the Trump administration had decided to refer anyone found crossing into the US illegally for federal prosecution, meaning that adults coming across the border with children will be separated from them as the parents await their criminal proceedings.

The move is expected to lead to a sharp uptick in the number of children separated from parents at the border.

DiNardo also said the administration's recent move to overturn asylum protections for victims of domestic violence "elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection."

Calling asylum "an instrument to preserve the right to life," he warned, "Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives."

Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, responded to DiNardo's comments:

"DHS does not have a policy of separating families at the border. As part of long-standing policy, DHS is increasing referrals of illegal border crossers who violate our nation's sovereignty to DOJ for prosecution. Every day in communities across the country -- if you commit a crime the police will take you to jail -- regardless if you have a family or not. ... Illegal aliens should not get different -- even better -- rights because they happen to be illegal aliens."

The Justice Department declined to comment. CNN also reached out to the White House for comment.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report)

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