They chanted, they held signs, and they sang Mexican lullabies. At times, they screamed as loud as they could: “¡Niños, no están solos!” (“Children, you are not alone”), hoping those inside the warehouse-turned-prison would hear them.
That was the scene on Father’s Day as more than 100 people gathered for an emergency rally outside the Ursula Immigration Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, on the border with Mexico, about an hour’s drive west of the Gulf of Mexico.
In an inspiring show of solidarity, dozens of activists from places as far away as New York and North Carolina made the trip to the Rio Grande Valley and joined local organizers and community members to bear witness as families continued to be torn apart at the border.
During the days since, outrage at the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy has crystallized into protests that have spread far from the site of nightmare on the border.
On Wednesday night, hundreds of people got themselves to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on a few hours’ notice to greet children forcibly separated from their families, as they arrived on flights orchestrated by federal authorities to transfer the young detainees away from facilities at the border.
Immigrant rights organizations sent out the call late Wednesday to greet the flights, and people responded immediately, coming to the airport with handmade signs in Spanish to tell the children “No estan solos” (“You are not alone”), “Ustedes son importantes” (“You are important”) and “Los queremos y lucharemos por ustedes” (“We want you and we will fight for you”). Chants rang out in the still-crowded terminals as people tried to meet each plane.
The fact that separated children were arriving in a city thousands of miles from their parents on Wednesday night proves that Donald Trump’s executive order — signed that morning to supposedly stop family separation — isn’t even the beginning of the end of this nightmare.
Even if newly detained families are kept together, Trump’s order shows that the administration wants to hold parents and children indefinitely, in violation of court rulings. And no one in an administration that so callously tore families apart seems to have any idea how already separated children will be reunited with their parents.
The protests must go on — and they will, with greater numbers than ever before, now that the eyes of millions of people have been opened to the nightmare at the border.
* * *
The demonstration in McAllen was organized on Father’s Day to highlight the atrocity of separating children from their parents — and to lift up the memory of Marco Antonio Munoz, the 39-year-old Honduran father who took his own life after being separated from his wife and child.
“We must fight for Marco and for his wife and the 3-year-old he left behind,” said Tanya, an organizer with La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). “For all the children who are inside and who don’t have their father today, for all those parents who are in there without knowing where their children are. We must remember that fight does not end today.”
Tanya was followed by 12-year-old Lea, from Miami, who — with tears streaming down her face — reminded the crowd that families are being separated all over the country, not just at the border:
I live in a constant fear of losing my dad to immigration, but Trump wants to take him away for me. I can’t sleep. I cannot even study. I am stressed. I am afraid that he will be taken away while he is at work. I want to tell kids at the border and all over the country not to give up, and keep fighting for their parents. I won’t give up fighting for the right to remain with my family.
Following her speech, Lea and other kids walked to the doors of the detention facility to deliver gifts to the children held there.
Over the intercom, an officer announced that they would be let in, but after nearly 20 minutes of waiting in the 97-degree heat, the doors never opened. The children eventually turned around, leaving their cards and stuffed animals at the door.
The rally was organized by the Keep Families Together coalition, composed of local groups such as LUPE and Fuerza Del Valle Workers Center, along with national organizations such as the National Domestic Workers Alliance, People’s Action and Moms Rising, among others.
Several speakers testified about the devastation suffered in the Rio Grande Valley — and the fact that while people are paying attention now, the separation of families has been happening for years.
“For years, we have witnessed the systematic dehumanization of immigrant workers and their children,” said Sonny Garcia of Illinois People’s Action, though originally from Brownsville, Texas.
“Today, we are seeing how babies are literally torn from breastfeeding mothers and thrown into dog cages. We call on all fathers, all mothers, all Americans to stand up and resist this evil called Donald Trump, resist this evil called Jeff Sessions, resist this evil called ICE.”
Rion Thompson, a member of Down Home North Carolina, says he has only recently begun following the issue of immigration after local actions back home. He explained to the crowd why he decided to travel halfway across the country on short notice:
As a Black man in America, I have an understanding of family separation. I understand the long history of tearing Black fathers out of their communities and locking them up in cages. They are blamed for not being there to provide for their children, the same way that immigrant fathers are blamed now for trying to bring their kids to safety and a better future. The reality is that this system and these racist policies keep parents from being able to provide for their children.
* * *
Over the past couple weeks, the flood of horrific stories, images of children in cages, even audio recordings of infants crying while in detention has revealed the monstrosity of ICE and the administration’s policy. Millions of people are being forced to pick a side.
Just in the last few days, at least eight state governors, two of them Republicans, have announced that they would recall national guard forces from the border, and some conservative leaders are speaking publicly against the Trump policy.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ own church took action against him. More than 600 members of the United Methodist Church issued a formal complaint against Sessionsas a fellow church member, charging that his “zero tolerance” policy on immigration violates church rules and may constitute child abuse.
Most importantly, groups of workers are on the move. Members of the National Nurses United joined other unions in marching to protest the family separation. At Microsoft, more than 100 workers posted an open letter calling on the company to cancel its contracts with ICE.
The Trump administration’s barbaric treatment of children is the chief issue driving the outrage, but that doesn’t mean protests can stop with the immediate crisis. It is essential to take a deeper look at the problem. As Jacinta Gonzalez writes at Truthout:
What has been less paid attention to is that the parents are being criminally prosecuted, facing up to 20 years in prison, for simply migrating. It is this criminal prosecution for “illegal entry” and “re-entry” by the Department of Justice that allows for the government to take children away, put them in cages or send them to live with complete strangers, while their parents sit in private prisons.
What’s happening at the border is atrocious, but it’s not new. It’s bound up with the entire history and present of this country.
If we want a different future, we need to build the kind of movement that doesn’t pick and choose where our compassion extends, but that puts forward unapologetic love and solidarity with all families torn apart by this vicious system.
Socialists believe deeply that we can fight for and win a world without prisons and borders — a world where people can move freely and live in safety. We cannot leave anyone behind if we want to get there.
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