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“Families Belong Together” rallies are protesting the separation of immigrant children from parents

Prosecuting parents seeking asylum and splitting families at the border is generating tremendous outrage among Trump’s critics.

Dozens of “Families Belong Together“ rallies are planned for Thursday, June 14th to protest the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the US/Mexico border. The administration has separated hundreds of families, mostl
Dozens of “Families Belong Together” rallies are planned for Thursday, June 14, to protest the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Above, a rally on June 1 in Manhattan.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Trump administration’s newly established practice of separating families seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border is inspiring a backlash that’s reminiscent of the protests against the first iteration of Trump’s travel ban in January 2017.

On Thursday, June 14, progressive groups are holding “Families Belong Together” rallies around the country, as well as a virtual lunchtime “rally,” to protest separating children from their parents at the border and demand that the Trump administration keep families together.

If you want to learn more about the separation of immigrant families at the border, see Vox’s full explainer.

What are the Families Belong Together rallies?

The Trump administration has recently started separating hundreds of children from their parents each week as they enter the US to seek asylum — usually by charging the parents with illegal entry into the US and sending them into criminal custody, while treating the children as if they were “unaccompanied alien children” who’d come to the US without their parents.

In late May, many progressives and Trump critics — along with some religious conservatives — began to express alarm about the separation of families. Since then, reports about how families are being separated and the conditions in which children are being kept have continued to stoke outrage:

  • According to public defenders, immigration agents told some parents that their children were being taken for a bath, or taken briefly for questioning. It took hours for parents to realize their children had really been taken away indefinitely.
  • Nick Miroff of the Washington Post revealed that one father died by suicide in a detention cell, the night after his 3-year-old had been physically ripped out of his arms.
  • According to CNN, one mother reported that her child had been taken from her while she was nursing. The mother claimed she was placed in handcuffs when she tried to protest.
  • Jacob Soboroff of MSNBC and other journalists toured a Health and Human Services holding facility in which children are kept for an average of six weeks before being placed with sponsors, and reported that the atmosphere felt like a jail and that there were Trump “murals” on the walls.
  • Reports from McClatchy and the Washington Post indicate that the federal government is trying to find a new shelter to temporarily house thousands more “unaccompanied” children, possibly by constructing a temporary shelter — a “tent city” — on a Texas military base.

These stories have led many to conclude that the Trump administration is acting inhumanely — or even in a totalitarian fashion.

The Families Belong Together rallies are intended to show that many Americans don’t approve of the government’s actions, and to pressure the Trump administration (and Congress) to end the practice of separating parents from their children.

Dozens of Families Belong Together rallies are being held on Thursday — some of them organized by the Families Belong Together campaign itself, some organized by other progressive groups. If you’re interested in attending, you can find a list of rallies and search for one near you here.

There’s also a virtual “lunchtime” during which people who can’t attend a rally but still want to participate can take a range of actions to show their support.

Why is Trump separating children from parents at the border?

The Trump administration has announced a “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting as many people as possible who enter the US illegally (between ports of entry, or official border crossings), even if they are coming to seek asylum. Many of the immigrants currently coming into the US are seeking asylum from Central America (in particular Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), and many of them are parents bringing their children.

Parents prosecuted for illegal entry are separated from their children because the parent is sent into criminal custody under the Department of Justice, and there’s no way for children to stay with their parents in criminal jail.

Upon being separated from their parents, children are officially designated “unaccompanied alien children” by the US government — a category that typically describes people under the age of 18 who come to the US without an adult relative arriving with them.

Under federal law, unaccompanied alien children are sent into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The ORR is responsible for identifying and screening the nearest relative or family friend living in the US to whom the child can be released. In the meantime, the children are held in facilities like the one some journalists were allowed to tour on Wednesday — a converted Walmart that houses over 1,000 immigrant boys.

Once the parents are charged and convicted, they’re returned to immigration detention. In theory, they can then be reunited with their children. But reports indicate that immigrants are going weeks or months without even knowing where their children are. Even parents who want to give up their asylum claims and just return to their home countries with their children are finding it impossible to locate them.

Where will the fight over separating families at the border go from here?

The Trump administration isn’t showing any willingness to stop prosecuting parents for illegal entry, or separating their children accordingly. And a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU, which won an early victory last week, wouldn’t stop families from being separated when the parents are prosecuted — it would just prevent the Trump administration from separating families in immigration detention, and would force the government to reunite parents with their children once they’ve been convicted of illegal entry and returned to the custody of immigration agents.

The public response to family separations might be reminiscent of the first travel ban, but it was much easier to challenge the legality of the travel ban. Separating children from their families seems inhumane, but it’s been part of immigration enforcement for a long time.

Democrats in Congress are pushing bills that would prevent border agents from being able to separate parents from children without a specific finding that the child was in danger. And some House Republicans claim that the broad immigration bill they plan to unveil in the coming days, and vote on next week, will prevent family separations — though how it will do so is unclear.

The Trump administration itself claims that it’s only separating families because it can’t detain them all together in immigration custody indefinitely. There are legal protections in place for immigrant children that prevent them from being treated as criminals; the Trump administration wants to undo those legal protections (which it calls “loopholes”) so that it can detain children along with their parents until it is able to deport them (or until they win their asylum cases, which can take months or years).

If the public is outraged about the construction of “tent cities” to house immigrant children, in other words, the administration is teeing itself up to look like the good guys: They are willing to keep families together as long as Congress passes a law to allow children, families, and other asylum seekers to be detained for as long as it takes until their cases are resolved.

Which is more humane? To take a child from her parent, keep her in a temporary “tent” for a few days or weeks, and then place her with a relative? Or to keep child and parent together, in detention, for months or years?

Most of the administration’s critics would probably answer that the only humane option is to release the whole family together and find another way to monitor their cases to make sure they show up for their court dates. But that is the one option the administration refuses to put back on the table.

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