Megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress has said 'God is not an open borders guy' as he tried to justify Donald Trump's rescinding of the DACA immigration programme.
Jeffress, head of First Baptist Dallas church and one of the president's top evangelical advisers, said 'Christian compassion' needed to be balanced with the government protecting its citizens – the implication being immigrants were a threat.
Appearing on Fox & Friends where he is a regular paid contributor, Jeffress rebuked more than 3,000 Christian leaders who wrote a letter to the White House condemning the decision to scrap the scheme.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme allows children brought into the US illegally to apply for rights to work and study. During the past five years it has allowed 800,000 so-called 'Dreamers' to attend school without fear of deportation.
The Evangelical Immigration Table, a group including National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore, wrote a letter to Trump saying: 'These young people have shown through their great determination and fortitude that our nation is better off because of their presence. They are leading in our churches and our communities.'
The letter urged the White House to 'find solutions that allow these young people to stay in our country long-term and continue to be a blessing to our communities'.
Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also warned Trump about the consequences of ending DACA. 'As a pastor, I cannot sit idly by while the federal government threatens to forcibly separate families by deportation,' he said.
But Jeffress hit back and said the had not presented the full picture.
'While Christian compassion is one consideration, it's not the only consideration in the immigration problem,' he said.'I mean, the Bible also says that God is the one who established nations and its borders. God is not necessarily an open borders guy, as a lot of people would think that he is.
'And thirdly, the Bible says God has ordained government to protect its citizens. So when you are talking about a biblical solution to immigration, yes, we need to talk about compassion, but we need to balance that with government's real responsibility to protect its citizens.'
The Texas pastor also rounded on Pope Francis for 'lambasting President Trump' after the head of the Catholic Church said those who support the separation of families through immigration laws are not 'pro-life'.
Speaking to reporters aboard the papal plane returning from a five-day trip to Colombia, he said he hoped Trump 'rethinks' the decision to scrap the plan that allowed immigrants bought into the US as children to remain.
'I believe that this law comes, I think, not from Congress but from the executive branch of the government,' he said. 'If it is so, I have the hope that it's re-thought, because I heard the president of the United States introduce himself as a "pro-life" man.'
He added: 'A good pro-lifer understands that family is the cradle of life, and that its unity must be defended.'
It is not the first time Jeffress has caused controversy in his loyal defence of Trump. He previously said the Bible gave Trump the authority to take out North Korea's Kim Jong Un.