Over 50 people arrived in Madison Town Park last Sunday evening to protest President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, which has resulted in separating over 2,000 children from their parents at the border since May.
Jeanne Dufort, a member of the Morgan County Democrats, and other community leaders organized the rally.
“It really came out of a bunch of us talking,” Dufort said. “Just a bunch of concerned citizens that were bothered by this.”
Sujata Gupta Winfield, an immigration attorney in Athens, was invited to speak at the event.
“The injustice has been so excessive that it has affronted our sense of decency, our sense of dignity, our sense of humanity and has led to a cry coming out from us to stop this, to stop this right now. This is not fair, this is not just, this is not civilized, this is not who we are…We have thousands of kids who are going to be emotionally scarred.”
Thousands of families have been fleeing violence and persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras since 2014, Winfield explained. Undocumented immigrant families were coming to the United States seeking asylum, and previously, they were released into the civil court system.
Under the new policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April of this year, the parents were detained and sent to the criminal system, and the children were placed into detention centers, she said.
On June 20, President Trump signed an executive order to keep the families intact but in detention with the Department of Homeland Security. The order did not specify a plan to reunite more than 2,000 children currently detained with their parents. Critics worry that the order not only fails to reunite children with their parents, but also overlooks another moral conundrum by swapping one inhumane policy for another.
“The new executive order promises to keep families intact, but in extended government custody. We, concerned local citizens, call on our President to reunite the children with their families immediately, and we ask our elected Representatives to pass legislation NOW to require INS to keep families intact and free from confinement as they navigate the asylum process,” said Dufort.
Winfield noted immigration court is already overloaded with cases even before the Trump Administration enacted its “zero-tolerance” policy.
“There are 619,000 cases pending in immigration courts in the country,” Winfield said. “Where are these people going to wait?”
Audience members held up signs that read, “Do Unto Others” and “Compassion not Talking Points.”
Other people were invited to the microphone to read quotes condemning the administration’s current practice. Interspersed between these readings were celebratory songs like “This Land is Your Land”, “We Shall Overcome” by Pete Seeger and “Somos El Barco” by Peter, Paul and Mary. Terry Reeves-Martin led the crowd in singing.
Don Mosley, founder of Jubilee Partners in Comer, spoke about his experience offering hospitality to refugees and urged the community to act.
“Be part of the light end of that darkness,” Mosley said. “Act of that compassion.”
The speakers also mentioned several options to show support for the undocumented immigrants.
“The easiest way to help a cause is donations,” Winfield said. “To be able to hire attorneys to fight these cases. You can get together, hold meetings and write to congressmen.”
Dufort urged the crowd to channel their outrage into activism.
“We are also going to share some suggestions of some things we can do with our time and our money, so we aren’t just talking tonight and we are not just singing tonight and we are not just hugging one another tonight, but we are going to translate our anguish into action…to hopefully make a difference in our little corner of the world.”
Organizers of the event put together a brochure of organizations for people to considering donating to, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Immigration Council, The Center for Community Change, the Human Right Initiative of North Texas, Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Immigration Law Center, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.