On the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep immigrant families together, youth migrants and local activists held a rally in New Haven.
They’re happy that children won’t be separated from their parents, but they say this issue that’s become a hot topic, not just along the border, but all over America, and it’s far from over.
The rally was held on the steps of a downtown New Haven church, where participants held signs, while nearby, a few young children sat on the ground, fenced in, to drive home a point.
“This policy is inhumane; this policy seeks to prosecute every immigrant that crosses over for illegal entry or illegal re-entry,” said Vanesa Suarez, of Unidad Latina en Accion.
For the past few weeks, across the country, there has been a lot of opposition over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
In April, the Department of Homeland Security began prosecuting anyone crossing the southern border, resulting in nearly 2,000 immigrant children getting separated from their parents during a six-week period in April and May.
Many are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, like 17-year-old Hazel Mencos.
The high school junior told the crowd she was caught by border patrol agents four years ago while crossing the border.
She was with her aunt and fleeing the violence in Guatemala when they were separated.
She said she was put in a cold room, which she described as an ice box, and met other children, some whom she says had been separated from their parents for a year.
Hazel was eventually reunited with her mom who was living in Connecticut.
“If I can raise my voice now, I will do it, and I hope that those children in cages someday and read the news and know that many people on the outside did something for them to be liberated,” Mencos said.
However, immigration advocates are cautious, saying the president, could have stopped the separation a long time ago, and only did so following fierce backlash.
“What does that mean? Does that mean there are going to be family detention? Does it mean their parents are now going to be caged with their children? That’s not what we want. What we want to stop prosecuting people who are coming to the country,” said Ana Maria Rivera-Forastieri, of Connecticut Bail Fund.
At first, the president said Congress should fix this and he wanted them to, but many argued the quickest resolution would be to sign an executive order.
New Haven based immigration attorney Renee Redman said seeing what’s been happening to families crossing the southern border hasn’t been easy.
“These are children who have, most of them probably traumatized already in their home countries and on the trip to the United States and now they’re separated from their parents in a foreign country, I mean what child wouldn’t be traumatized,” Redman said.
Redman said under previous administrations, family separation did occur, but it happened rarely, as there was no mandate prosecuting border crossers criminally, rather they’d go through immigration court.
That changed in April, with the announcement of a “zero tolerance” policy for anyone caught crossing the border.
“I think it's incorrect to say that parents who bring their children to the border of the United States asking for asylum are irresponsible. In fact, they’re very responsible, they’re doing what is best for their children in getting them out of a horrible situation,” Redman said.
Advocates say they’re far from done. A rally is being planned for this weekend on the New Haven green.
To read the statements released by local lawmakers about the executive order, click here.
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