Amid the hysteria surrounding the separation of immigrant families who recently entered the United States illegally, one of President Donald Trump's spiritual advisers, Paula White, is speaking out in support of stronger border laws and explains the difference between Jesus as a refugee and those who break immigration laws.
White recently visited the Youth for Tomorrow facility in Bristow, Virginia, a foster facility that is taking care of several unaccompanied immigrant children who were trafficked into the U.S. from countries like and Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
After visiting the center, White told CBN News in an interview published Monday that what is being portrayed in the media about the situation is misleading and warned that some people are taking the Bible "out of context" on this issue.
The Florida-based pastor said that the "center was amazing" and "beyond phenomenal."
"They care for the children," White, the senior pastor at New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, said. "Not just three square meals, psychiatric care, clinician, medical care, chapel, events, schooling, language, and love."
She said that each child is given an assessment when they arrive, which includes medical and debt evaluation.
White explained that she learned while visiting the center just how many unaccompanied children are in debt to human traffickers who brought them illegally into the U.S.
White said that at the center she visited, "all of the children" faced some sort of debt totaling between $3,000 to as much as $10,000 "because they have been smuggled."
She also said there are cases in which parents had mortgaged their homes or put their land up to pay for their child's trafficking.
"These were unaccompanied minors," she was quoted as saying. "If we are going to be compassionate. We have to have stricter border security and laws."
White told CBN News National Security Correspondent Erik Rosales that her visit had "100 percent" strengthened her views on border security.
"While I recognize how well we are taking care of these children, I also recognize the situation," she said. "We are talking about children that are being trafficked."
In many cases, the children being smuggled are doing so in order to avoid violence or persecution associated with gangs in their homelands. However, there is much concern about the journey through dangerous terrain required to complete the trip, which has led to an increase in deaths in recent years.
During the interview White was specifically asked if there were any biblical scriptures that came to mind during her visit.
"I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this, to say stuff like, 'Well, Jesus was a refugee,'" White responded. "Yes, He did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years. But it was not illegal. If He had broken the law then He would have been sinful and He would not have been our Messiah."
While the Trump administration has received much scrutiny for detaining immigrants who enter the country illegally — just as the Bush and Obama administrations did, as previously reported by The Christian Post here and here — it should be noted that families seeking asylum at entry points are not separated, except in cases where a parent has a criminal record. Families that didn't report to entry points and crossed into the country illegally were more likely to be immediately separated, which many evangelical leaders opposed.
According to the New York Times, officials within the Customs and Border Protection have said that the administration's zero-tolerance illegal immigration policy does not apply at ports of entry because seeking asylum is deemed legal.
White's interview comes as the U.S. government will not meet the court-imposed deadline to reunite immigrant children with their families. Under the initial federal court order last month, the administration was given 14 days to reunite children younger than 5 with their families.
The government had until Tuesday to reunited 100 children age 5 and younger with their families.
However, the government was granted an extension by a federal judge. As the federal government plans to reunite just under 60 children with their families on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said she's encouraged by the direction things are headed.
"There's no question that the parties are meeting and conferring," District Judge Dana Sabraw said Monday. "This is real progress and I'm optimistic that many of these families will be reunited tomorrow, and then we'll have a very clear understanding as to who has not been reunited, why not, and what time-frame will be in place."
As there was over 2,300 children (younger than 18) who needed to be reunited, it was reported last month that the federal government had already reunited over 500 children with their families.
Bethany Christian Services, a foster agency that was taking care of immigrant children separated from their families, assured Tuesday that it's in the process of reuniting all immigrant children under the age of 5 with their families.
"The forced separation of refugee children from asylum-seeking families is a gaping wound in our country, and this wound cannot even begin to heal until every child is reunited with their families," Bethany President Chris Palusky said in a statement. "It is never OK to separate a child from its family when they're seeking asylum. They are fleeing. The definition of refugee is someone who is fleeing for their lives or security."
Of the more than 12,000 children who recently entered the U.S. illegally, over 2,300 were separated from their parents as part of Trump's policy.
Responding to criticism about the administration's actions, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on June 18 at a White House press briefing: "The Obama administration, the Bush administration all separated families. ... They did — their rate was less than ours, but they absolutely did do this. This is not new."
Since the Obama administration didn't keep a record of the number of children who were separated from families after crossing the border illegally, those numbers are unknown, DHS officials recently told McClatchy news.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently told "Fox News Sunday" that under the Obama administration some children were detained alone and some with families. "We had then 34,000 beds for family detention, [but] only 95 of 34,000 [were] equipped to deal with families."
"From fiscal year 2010 to fiscal 2016, there were 2,362,966 adults apprehended illegally crossing the Southern border, and 492,970 were referred for prosecution," notes Factcheck.org which adds that those numbers don't include the number of children who also entered the country illegally, either accompanied or unaccompanied.
Some confusion over the Trump administration's former family separation policy stems from the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement which states that children can only be detained for 20 days before they're released to the Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2016, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled that the Flores Settlement Agreement not only applied to unaccompanied children, but also applied to accompanied minors. This means that after 20 days children can no longer be detained alongside their parents or the adults who accompanied them across the border, but must be released to family members already living in the U.S. or a sponsor while their parents remain in detention.