More than 750 rallies in support of families will be held nationwide on June 30, as people from diverse backgrounds call for the uniting of parents and children seeking asylum. People also want an end to the detention of families in U.S. immigration facilities.
The Trump administration targeted families seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks, bringing people from diverse backgrounds across the U.S. together around their shared belief that this is a country that protects families, especially children, and upholds decency.
Administration officials have offered more than a dozen different reasons for separating parents from children. They’ve blamed parents themselves and Congress for federal enforcement actions that they actually control. They’ve said detained immigrant children were in good federal care. They’ve also used mockery.
On June 20, as images of crying babies ricocheted worldwide, the administration pulled back its family separation actions through an executive order – but that and other actions are raising deeper questions about humane treatment and civil rights protected under the U.S. Constitution.
On Saturday, the public will unite, yet again, for what organizers are calling a “National Day of Action” consisting of more than 750 rallies in Washington, D.C. and cities in every state. Their core message: Separated parents and children need to be reunited, immediately, and family separation and detention need to end, according to We Belong Together, an immigration reform organization working on the actions.
“Political views aside, and with your heart in your hand, just think about what these kids are going through,” said Nadia Figueroa, a mother of two boys and program coordinator for Adult and Youth United Development Association, Inc. (AYUDA), which is about 15 miles from a federal tent city for detained immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas.
Tornillo and the Rio Grande Valley, also in Texas and both of which sit along the U.S.-Mexico border, are two key focal points of what has turned into a global humanitarian crisis of families fleeing violence and turmoil in their home countries in Central America.
“If our country was to be bombarded, where would we run? We would run to another country, as well, with our kids in hand,” Figueroa said. “We’re supposed to protect our kids.”
The Trump administration is considering using tent cities on U.S. military bases to house asylum seekers. News reports say some asylum seekers are being or will be housed in federal prisons. Typically, seeking asylum in the U.S. has not been viewed as an act that merits incarceration in a federal prison.
Already, images of detained youth behind locked holding cells have shocked the country, as well as news that immigrant children, some as young as 3 years old, are appearing on their own before judges and officials in federal immigration court.
“We are, I think, collectively taking on a new sense of family,” said Christina Patiño Houle, a Rio Grande Valley community leader who serves as a Network Weaver, or coordinator, connecting nonprofit organizations working with low-income families in the region.
“As migrants who are coming to our border seeking asylum are being (attacked), our community understands this is a larger attack on migrants in the United States…and an attack on migrants who are already here.”
Because these asylum seekers are families, say people questioning the federal government, then all families are being pulled into the national conversation about respect, the adult responsibility to protect children and the dehumanization of people on U.S. soil.
“Families belong together in communities, not cages,” Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of LUPE, a civil rights and farmworker organization, said in a statement and referring to images of the federal detention of children.
“We know that the safest place for children is with their families in communities where they can receive the care they need,” she added.
In recent days, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border, people concerned about families have held rallies, marches and actions. That includes a fast and prayer chain led by Dolores Huerta, a United Farm Workers founder, and Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, according to LUPE, which stands for La Union del Pueblo Entero.
In California’s Central Valley, organizers are engaging on multiple levels, with DREAMers – residents who were brought to the U.S. as children and qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that’s now in jeopardy – among the most vocal leaders, said Hugo Morales of Fresno-based Radio Bilingüe. “There has been more and more voter registration efforts here,” he said.
For families and immigration rights advocates in Phoenix, the recent actions along the U.S.-Mexico border are bringing back memories of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The controversial law enforcement official struck fear among Latinos and immigrants in the Phoenix area, as his deputies conducted operations, especially in neighborhoods, which essentially sought to determine whether a person was undocumented.
Enforcement of U.S. immigration laws has long been a responsibility of the federal government. There were strong concerns among residents of racial profiling. Arpaio detained residents in a military-style tent city on county property – and many were forced to wear pink clothing.
Among the factors that led to Arpaio leaving his position as sheriff: Lawsuits, protests and rallies, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, conversations with public officials and elections.
“Democracy is not about separating families. This is really sparking interest in people who were never involved before,” said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, who worked with immigrants and other residents during the Arpaio era as sheriff.
In New Mexico, hundreds of people are expected on Saturday at rallies in several cities, including Santa Fe, Roswell, Gallup, Farmington and Albuquerque, according to immigrant-led Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
“We just have to continue to have new people come and step up because we are trying to hold onto family unity in our community,” said Marcela Díaz, the organization’s executive director. “Families are angry, and they are going to continue to fight.”
A day after the Trump administration issued its executive order, Figueroa and about a dozen AYUDA community leaders arrived at the federal tent city for detained youth in Tornillo, Texas.
They showed up with the hope of entering the facility to make sure the separated migrant youth – in this case, she said, they were all boys – were safe. Federal immigration agents denied their request for entry.
“We’re the richest country, in any sense,” Figueroa said. “We’re free. Why can’t we share that freedom?”
Her brother, she said, clutched a large U.S. flag which fluttered in the wind outside the tent city, which is close to a U.S.-Mexico border crossing. On Saturday and in the weeks to come, there will certainly be more U.S. flags flying in the air at rallies.
There also will be more people, of all backgrounds, raising their voices to say the United States must always be a place where kindness exists for families seeking a better life.
Brad Wong is content editor for Equal Voice. Paul Nyhan is its senior writer. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original and contracted Equal Voice content – articles, photos and videos – can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included.
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