This past Friday, nearly 200 people gathered together outside of the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego to demand that the Trump administration reunite families torn apart at the border as a result of the president’s so-called “zero-tolerance” policy. Inside the detention center were many immigrant mothers separated from their children at the border as a result of the administration’s xenophobic policy.
Organizers outside the detention center shared the handwritten letters of about 50 people inside with the crowd. “When we ask for medical attention, they do not treat us, and many of us have pains and wounds,” David Obud, an organizer with immigrants’ rights group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, read from one detainee’s letter. “They threaten to report us to judges when we don’t want to work. They threaten to damage our cases.”
Senator Kamala Harris also spoke to the protestors outside, stressing the importance of informing the American public as to what is really going on in these camps and at the border. “I sat down and visited the mothers in there, and my heart is broken,” Harris told the crowd. “These mothers have given testimony, if you will, have shared their personal stories of a human rights abuse committed by the United States government. We are so much better than this.”
The Trump administration initially attempted to cede all accountability for the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. / Mexico border, attempting to claim that it was U.S. law to separate families and detain children separately from their parents and calling on its political opponents to reverse their own mandate. After mounting political pressure from across the aisle, Trump pledged to stop separating families—but made no commitments about reuniting the thousands of children now housed in overcrowded and under-staffed tent cities and abandoned Walmarts across the country with their parents.
The administration’s decision to separate parents from their children at the border also came amidst a major change to asylum law initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In an announcement to immigration judges, Sessions declared that “claiming” to be a victim of domestic violence or gang-related violence would no longer qualify those seeking refuge in the U.S. for asylum. In the remarks announcing his decision, which is an effective death sentence for hundreds of women fleeing violence in Central America, the Attorney General called domestic violence a “private matter.”
Now, the Trump administration is again attempting to deny its self-made border crisis by claiming the depictions of what life is like for parents and children in detention facilities are falsified and exaggerated. In response, lawmakers like Harris have been touring the facilities and reporting back, in person and on social media, about what they’ve seen. “I went inside the detention center again,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) tweeted from outside a center in Seattle Saturday. “Again, men and women broke down in tears speaking of their families, and they described fleeing terrible violence, rape and trauma. Nearly all want asylum. I promised we would keep fighting to defeat this cruelty and get them released.”
Activists are also mobilizing nationwide, holding similar protests outside of detention centers and local City Hall buildings and demanding action to reunite the families separated by Trump’s policy. On June 30, a national day of action will commence with protests nationwide against the policy and the continued separation of families detained at the border.
After the policy was first initiated earlier this month, Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal risked arrest at a protest in Washington, D.C. that also rallied support for the Keep Families Together Act, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as a safeguard against any such separation practices happening again at the border. The Feminist Majority launched a petition campaign this month calling on lawmakers to support the bill.
“Look at this place behind me,” Harris implored Friday. “We have imprisoned them. I have visited many prisons and jails. That [detention center] is a prison. We call them criminals when they arrive here—that is not the sign of a civil society, and as a society, we will be judged. We will be judged harshly for this.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ms. was live at Otay Mesa Friday. Watch our footage of the protest below—and follow us on Facebook to get notified the next time we’re on a front line.