African-American lawmakers and leaders nationwide are among those expressing outrage about children and even babies who’ve been separated from their families at the southern U.S. border and detained — actions that critics blame on Donald Trump’s administration, even as the president and his cabinet deny any fault in shaping the policies.
From October 2017 to May 2018, it’s estimated that more than 2,700 children have been separated from their parents and the rates have risen sharply more recently. In the past six weeks alone, at least 1,995 children have been taken from their family and placed in shelter facilities that are already nearing capacity, according to reports.
It does not appear the government has a formal process to reunite families, leaving the possibility that the youngsters will spend extended periods of time in temporary shelter facilities, potentially subjected to trauma. Media images have emerged of children reportedly being held in cages, along with audio releases said to be of youngsters crying.
“President Trump, cease and desist because you are moving the arc of justice to the heap of despair and the trash heap of injustice,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), who made public remarks after touring detention facilities with Congressional colleagues in recent days.
Other Black lawmakers are speaking out. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) implored Republicans during a Hill hearing yesterday to “stand up to President Trump” and to “stand up for those children.” Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) have both publicly called for the resignation of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, who has fiercely defended the policy. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and other Black and Hispanic lawmakers have marched in protest.
On Tuesday outside the Capitol, civil rights leaders, elected officials, and activists assembled, calling upon the Trump administration and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to immediately cease their actions.
“The unjust White House policy to separate children from their parents at the Mexican border, who are fleeing for their lives seeking asylum from violence and persecution in their home countries, is tantamount to government-sanctioned child abuse,” said Melanie Campbell, President/CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “This administration is using babies as pawns to build a wall on the border and using `rule of law’ as their excuse to commit these inhumane atrocities.”
Marc H. Morial, President/CEO, the National Urban League agreed. “Our history books will reflect on these abhorrent separations as some of the darkest times in this country’s history.”
Other prominent leaders of color joined yesterday’s press conference. They included heads of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the National Action Network (NAN); NAACP; UnidosUS; the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Anti-Defamation League. Members of Congress who participated included Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
“The gathering of major civil rights leaders is to underscore our outrage at the horrible, immoral administrative directive to separate children from their parents. This must be resisted at all levels,” said Rev. Al Sharpton of NAN, who today announced plans to visit the border facilities with fellow clergy on Thursday. Sharpton added he was convinced that President Trump would not do this at the Canadian border to White children. “This is selective administrative insensitivity.”
Kristen Clarke, President/ Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee, noted: “There is no defending the migrant family separation policy, one of the most callous and cruel policies that we have seen emerge from this administration.”
Trump, White House Response
According to recent polls, some 66 percent of Americans disapprove of the Trump Administration’s policy of separating children from their families; 59 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of immigration.
Trump has deflected criticism. During events on Tuesday, he pointed to “loopholes in this horrible, rotten system that the Democrats have to help us fix. …” The president met with the House Republican Conference on Tuesday evening; the White House provided a statement via media pool reports.
“In his remarks, [Trump] endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration, and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal,” said Raj Shah, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary. “He told the members, ‘I’m with you 100 percent!'”
Some Republican leaders have also condemned Trump’s family separation policy. For instance, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker was among those who said they would not be sending their states’ National Guard units to the border to enforce the policy. The Maryland Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee have challenged Republicans to act.
“We’ll do everything we can to end policies like family separation,” DNC Political and Organizing Director, Amanda Brown Lierman told ESSENCE. “And we will continue the fight for sensible immigration reform.”
A coalition of at least 20 attorneys general in states ranging from New Mexico to Vermont penned a letter to Sessions and Homeland Security’s Nielsen. They argue that besides being cruel and dangerous, these policies are violations of international, federal and state law, and of judicial precedent. “Terrorizing children and their parents is inhumane and immoral,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.
Sherrilyn A. Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., called the issue “a catastrophe” created by the Trump administration, noting that they have full power to end it.
“That’s why we need a functioning Congress to pass legislation that will end this inhumane practice. There are 49 Senators who support legislation designed to end this nightmare for immigrant families. All of them are Democrats. This should not be a partisan issue,” said Ifill, who also said oversight hearings should be convened immediately with both the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, federal agencies which have overseen and executed the policy.
There’s legislation pending in Congress which could potentially address the issue.
LDF and others support a bill known as the “Keep Families Together Act.” There are also two competing immigration bills that House Republicans are trying to pass this week: “The Securing America’s Future Act” and “The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act.”
The Congressional Black Caucus jointly released a statement with the CBC’s Immigration Task Force Chair, Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY). CBC Chairman, Cedric Richmond (D-LA) rejected the GOP bills, terming them “extreme measures that seek to allow Republicans to avoid responsibility in an election year for a crisis that they themselves created. …”
Campbell said all Americans should “speak up and challenge these immoral acts by our government.”
“God is not pleased, and voters of good conscience will remember this in November,” she said.