The “Families Belong Together” Movement
By Uyen Nguyen, Operations and Development Fellow
“Families Belong Together” is the movement responding to the current administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that separates undocumented children from their parents at the U.S.– Mexico border. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the “zero-tolerance” approach toward undocumented immigrants, the U.S. government has separated at least 2,000 children from their parents.
In response to this inhumane policy, more than 60 rallies and protests have taken place in 43 states. In D.C., the “Families Belong Together” rally was held in Upper Senate Park on June 14. This event alerted fellow Americans to the inhumane policies of the current administration, which allowed children, some only three years old, to be detained and separated from their parents. Representative Pramila Jayapal, who was at the rally, recounted her experience visiting 174 women who were arrested at the border and are being held in a federal prison. According to Rep. Jayapal, “These women, who came seeking asylum...they were told that their children were going to be taken for a bath...they were told that they were going to court. And when they came back, their children were not there anymore.” In the crowd, protesters stood with their children to show solidarity with the undocumented children and their families.
In these shelters, or in more accurate words, “detention centers,” none of the cells have doors or ceilings. The children are categorized by uniforms and wristbands. Some of these children crossed into the U.S. unaccompanied, while others came with their parents and were separated upon arrival.
In 2014, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala fled to the U.S. seeking asylum from gang violence and staggering poverty. Indeed, in the story told by Rep. Jayapal, one of the women who had been separated from her children and detained in prison came to this country to flee gang violence and domestic abuse. In response, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence are not eligible for asylum.
On June 20, 2018, President Trump signed an executive order to end the separation of immigrant families. Under the new order, border patrol agents can no longer separate children from their parents. Instead, children will be detained alongside their parents indefinitely. However, the new directive did not quell concerns among the public, and on June 30, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in all 50 states marched to protest Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, expressing frustration that immigrants who are asylum seekers are still being detained. Ultimately, the goal of this movement is to end the criminalization of asylum seekers and their children, not to incarcerate families, together or separately.
At the rally in D.C., there was a demonstrator holding a sign says “Separating Children of Color from their Families is Un-American.” A lot of allies have argued that the “zero-tolerance” policy contradicts our American values. However, to people of color, separating black and brown children from their families and treating them as “superpredators” is not new in America. Indeed, it’s a long-standing American tradition that began with slavery and persists today with mass incarceration.
The labeling of undocumented immigrants as “animals” and “gangsters” seemingly justifies this administration’s systematic criminalization and scapegoating of immigrants and their children. Likewise, by criminalizing black bodies in any circumstance and labeling black children as “criminals” and more “violent,” our government has created a criminal justice system where racial disparities are more pervasive than ever.
Under the current administration’s handling of immigration policy, the U.S. has returned to an era of nativism where immigrants from non-European nations are criminalized and targeted. This nativist immigration policy not only denies the human rights of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, but also the rights of their children who should be protected by our government, not incarcerated. Unfortunately, the act of incarcerating children of color as adults and treating them as “criminals” is not new in America. And yet, we seem to forget our history and let it repeats itself.