WASHINGTON, D.C. – The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration June 1 criticized the Trump administration for “forcibly separating children from their mothers and fathers” at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Such a policy “is ineffective to the goals of deterrence and safety and contrary to our Catholic values,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas. “Family unity is a cornerstone of our American immigration system and a foundational element of Catholic teaching.”

On May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for immigrants crossing illegally into the United States, resulting in children being separated from their families. The number of minors in U.S. custody has grown by nearly 2,000. By May 29, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department figures put the number at 10,773.

“‘Children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward,'” the bishop said, quoting Psalm 127:3. “Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God.”

“Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring,” Vasquez added. “Accordingly, children should always be placed in the least restrictive setting:  a safe, family environment, ideally with their own families.”

The bishop said that he and his fellow bishops “understand the need for the security of our borders and country, but separating arriving families at the U.S./Mexico border does not allay security concerns.”

He said children and their families will continue “to take the enormous risks of migration — including family separation — because the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle remain.” The “Northern Triangle” refers to which is home to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Those root causes Vasquez cited are “community or state-sanctioned violence, gang recruitment, poverty and a lack of educational opportunity.”

“Any policies should address these factors first as we seek to repair our broken immigration system,” he said.