Pressure is mounting on US President Donald Trump to reverse his policy of separating children from refugees and migrants who cross the US-Mexico border.
“Families belong together,” protesters chanted on Sunday, as hundreds gathered outside detention centres in the states of Texas and New Jersey, calling for an end to the practice.
In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” approach towards migrants and refugees who cross the US southern border without documents, promising to prosecute those who did so.
Part of that approach has been separating children from their parents who are detained.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman told reporters last week that 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults who crossed the US border without documents between April 19 and May 31.
New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney shared the stories of five men detained in the New Jersey facility who were separated from their families.
“All 5 of these men brought their families to the US to escape #gangviolence in their home countries,” she said on Twitter. “They came hoping for a better, safer life for their loved ones. Instead they were separated from their children & have received no update on their children since being detained.”
One man broke down when telling me about how his young daughter was ripped from his arms. This is inhumane and traumatizing.
— Carolyn B. Maloney (@RepMaloney) June 17, 2018
Other members of Congress toured a converted Walmart supermarket that is housing about 1,500 children, dozens of whom have been separated from their parents under the “zero-tolerance” policy.
“They call it ‘zero tolerance,’ but a better name for it is zero humanity, and there’s zero logic to this policy,” said Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said while touring the facility.
“It’s completely unacceptable under any moral code or under any religious tradition to injure children, inflict trauma on them in order to send some political message to adults somewhere overseas,” he said.
Protesters also marched to the newly-erected tent city in Tornillo, Texas, where hundreds of boys will be housed, according to Congressman Will Hurd, who toured the area over the weekend.
The US Department of Health and Human Services announced the opening of the “shelter” last week.
Democrat senators are attempting to drum up support in Congress to legislate against the policy, including proposing a law that would ban the practice.
Named the “Keep Families Together Act“, the bill, if passed, would ban the separation of a child from a parent or guardian unless there was a risk of abuse or neglect stemming from the parent’s custody of the child.
Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein said the bill had picked up support from 48 senators.
“We’re making progress, but we still need Republicans to join,” she wrote on Twitter.
While no Republicans have signed up to back the bill, others within the party establishment have spoken out.
These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in US history.
Former First Lady Laura Bush, the wife of former Republican President George W Bush, wrote an editorial in the Washington Post newspaper, in which she said the policy of zero tolerance “breaks her heart”.
“Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso,” she wrote.
— Susie Haslett (@sueqhaslett) June 17, 2018
“These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in US history.”
Current First Lady Melania Trump has also weighed in on the issue but stopped short of calling for the policy to be scrapped.
The first lady said she “hates to see children separated from their families” and that she hoped Republicans and Democrats could “come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” in a statement her spokesperson made to CNN.
Her husband’s administration has shown little sign that it will budge on the issue and has instead doubled down, even citing the Bible to justify its conduct.
Trump and his supporters have also repeatedly falsely blamed the Democrats for his administration’s policy of separating families, saying that it’s “their law”.
However, there is no statute that requires children to be separated from their parents at the border.
Others have defended the policy by citing the “safety and security” of the children.
Rights groups and others, including the UN, however, have said the practice violates the rights of the child.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote on Twitter: “There is no way to rationalize ripping families apart …”
— ACLU (@ACLU) June 17, 2018
President Trump campaigned on a platform to cut off the flow of immigrants entering the US through Mexico and repeatedly characterised those coming through as potential rapists and criminals.