At the end of our interview with Jeffress, we asked him about the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the United States' southern border, where the children of adults seeking asylum or to cross into the United States illegally from Mexico have been separated from their parents and held in detention centers in California, Arizona and Texas.
The separation policy stems from a zero-tolerance initiative at the border announced by the Trump administration in April. At the time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the policy was intended to deter South Americans from crossing the U.S. border, but President Donald Trump has said that if Democrats want to end the policy, they should acquiesce to his demands to build a border wall and limit legal immigration.
Here's what Jeffress, one of Trump's chief spiritual advisers, said:
"I think the president is willing to sit down with the Democrats and negotiate a way to protect our country and, at the same time, keep families together. I believe the scenes of children being separated from their parents, those pictures are gut-wrenching," Jeffress says. "Equally gut-wrenching is thinking about the child that was Kate Steinle, who was murdered by an illegal immigrant, being separated forever from her parents. I think there has to be a balance here."
"Equally gut-wrenching is thinking about the child that was Kate Steinle, who was murdered by an illegal immigrant being separated forever from her parents. I think there has to be a balance here." — Robert Jeffress
Jose Inez Garcia Zarate, who was in the United States illegally, shot Steinle in the back in San Francisco on July 1, 2015. The bullet ricocheted off the concrete deck of the pier before hitting Steinle, and Zarate claimed the shooting was an accident. On Nov. 30, 2017, a jury acquitted Zarate of murder and manslaughter charges but convicted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Following up on our initial question, the Observer then asked Jeffress whether using the continued separation of families as a bargaining chip was the right thing to do.
"Any American who commits a crime is going to separated from his or her child," Jeffress said. "You don't send children to jail with their parents in America, so I'm not sure why the only criminals who would get a pass on that policy would be illegal immigrants."