Community members protest family separation policy
Women’s March West Virginia and Vigilance-JCWV protested the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant families along U.S. Route 340 in front of Harpers Ferry’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Facility last Friday afternoon, braving the weather with raincoats, rain ponchos and umbrellas.
The event drew attention from across the tri-state area, as drivers honked their horns in support of the protestors and media outlets stopped by to document the five-hour event, which saw a turnout of about 70 people.
“Children should never be used as bargaining chips,” said Women’s March West Virginia member Sheila Vertino, of Shepherdstown. Raising her waterproof sign, reading “SHAME,” above her head, Vertino said she made the sign with the black plastic base of a dog bed, using white tape to shape the sign’s letters.
The controversial family separations were a result of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which required anyone caught crossing a U.S. border illegally, even those who made asylum claims, to be prosecuted. Since children can’t be held in federal detention centers, more than 2,300 immigrant children were separated from their parents and held in temporary facilities since early May, according to NPR.
Bob McEachern, of Harpers Ferry, said protesting is part of who he is.
“Silence is complicity,” said McEachern, who said his first protest was against the Vietnam War draft. “I’m a product of the ’60s. Protest is a way of life to me.”
McEachern said the family separation policy has international implications.
“I’ve seen a lot in my life. I’ve not seen anything this horrific, ever,” McEachern said. “We’re losing our status in the world because of it.”
President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the family separations June 20. While the order requires children to be housed with their families pending hearings, it will effectively require the administration to ignore the 20-day legal limit on the detention of immigrant children, according to The Los Angeles Times. Illegal immigration hearings typically take much longer than that.
Charles Town Outreach Captain Cherly Kemp believes the family separation policy was cruel to the children.
“We’ve got to stand up. Separation is the ultimate problem – it’s going to cause psychological or emotional damage to the children,” said Kemp. “They need to be processed according to American law. They should be given legal representation.”
According to the U.S. Constitution, those caught crossing the border illegally are allowed to seek legal representation for their trials. However, since many of them don’t commit crimes after entering the U.S., their cases are considered civil or administrative proceedings by the Supreme Court, according to the Center for Immigration Studies’ website. Civil cases in the U.S. are not granted public defenders, regardless of the citizenship status of the defendant. Additionally, some charitable organizations offer low-cost legal help to those caught crossing the border illegally.
Kemp and McEachern said holding the families together in an internment camp would be a better solution than separating the families, although they would prefer illegal immigrants to be given asylum without any form of incarceration.
“It breaks my heart how, that as a country, we would allow this to happen,” said Women’s March West Virginia member Cindy Keller, who said she thinks of how she would feel if her two granddaughters were separated from their parents. “I can just imagine them being terrified, and never getting over it.”