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'It’s not enough': Local organizers plan to rally against U.S. immigration practices

Despite almost daily tweaks by the Trump administration to U.S. immigration practices, local activists, citing concerns about children that remain in facilities separated from their parents, plan to participate in protests on Saturday.

“It’s not enough,” Zainab Chaudry, director of Maryland outreach for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said of President Donald Trump’s June 20 executive order aimed at stopping family separations at the border. “It doesn’t address some of the core issues revolving around the 2,200 children that already have been separated from their families, and that are being clandestinely flown to locations around the country.”

After public outrage ensued with the circulation of pictures of children being held in caged enclosures at the border, Trump issued the executive order. Under the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, about 2,300 children were separated from their families at the Southwest border. While some children have been reunited and the administration claims it knows the whereabouts of all the children and their parents, immigration advocates remain unconvinced.

“I think it’s absolutely outrageous and unconscionable that our government has been complicit — not only complicit, but also have actively taken children away from their parents,” Chaudry said. “Our primary focus right now needs to be on reuniting these children with their families, their parents and trying to undo some of the damage that has been done.”

More than 100 rallies nationwide are planned for Saturday as part of a movement called “Families Belong Together” to stand up for immigrant communities and protest the separation of families. A local rally is planned for 11 a.m. in Patterson Park to "oppose racist and inhumane immigration policies that are criminalizing immigrants," according to the rally’s page on the Families Belong Together website. Eight groups — which include Baltimore Women United, CAIR, CASA in Action and the ACLU, among others — are working in a coalition to host the local rally, the Facebook event reads.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Trump’s travel ban from many Muslim-majority countries, the rally will also address the ban, Chaudry said, adding that the issues are “so interconnected.”

“I tear up every time I think about it,” said Odette Ramos, co-chair of the Baltimore Women United group, of the separated children. “Can you imagine being separated from your parents? Can you imagine as a mom having your kid taken from you and not knowing how they are, or where they are, or what’s going on?”

“And let me tell you the other concern: Where are the girls? Where are the girls? All of the images we’ve seen are of the boys in the camp,” Ramos said.

In the Baltimore area, including in Baltimore County, dozens of children affected by the original policy are living in dormitories or being connected with foster families. On June 21, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said he plans to join a multi-state lawsuit aimed at reconnecting displaced children with their families.

“This pressure needs to continue, and we’re grateful for community members who have already stepped up,” said Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, the CASA in Action lead regional organizer for Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

Religious organizations in the area are also weighing in on the immigration situation.

"To hear what’s happening with children and detention centers is just criminal," said Sister Patricia Kirk, the prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Baltimore, which describes itself as a “community of monastic women who seek God through prayer, community life, and ministry.”

Kirk said the sisters are responding to phone calls and emails regarding the “immoral action of separating families at the border,” and that the Benedictine sisters in Texas are working at the border to provide religious community.

The Baltimore Jewish Council signed onto a June 20 national letter regarding family separation, expressing the group’s “strong opposition” to the zero-tolerance immigration policy.

“Our own people’s history as ‘strangers’ reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today and compels our commitment to an immigration system in this country that is compassionate and just,” reads the letter, which is addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Though the letter is directed at the “zero-tolerance” policy and not the recent order, Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said many of the concerns haven’t changed because “parents are still searching for their children.”

On June 20, a rally organized by city teachers was held outside Baltimore’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s office, at Gay and East Lombard streets, with hundreds in attendance. Alan Rebar, a Baltimore City teacher who helped to plan the rally, said that “people in this country have to just push and push for immigrant rights.”

Chaudry said people should be “unapologetic” and bold in making their voices heard “because in these moments in history, it’s more important now than ever before that we speak out, that we take a stand. There are too many people that depend on our voices.”

Sergio España, the director of engagement and mobilization for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said the organization plans to participate in a June 30 Baltimore action.

“It’s just important to remind ourselves with the fact that people are being detained in Baltimore County in support of this egregious, and what we consider not just immoral but unconstitutional, practice that the current Trump administration has put in effect,” España said. “They are undermining the law, they are undermining the rule of law, they are undermining common decency and morality in this country — and they need to be called out for what they’re engaging in. And it’s as simple as that.”

lbrennan@baltsun.com

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