On Monday July 7th, GHRC was present at a rally in support of the Central American children detained at the US border as well as their families. Since last October, nearly 60,000 minors have been detained. Young migrants face a variety of push and pull factors that motivate them to make what is frequently a perilous journey to the US, and a significant number are fleeing violence in their home countries.
Once they are detained, children face being held in uncomfortable and overcrowded Border Patrol facilities. They must navigate their removal process without the right to an appointed counsel or child advocate and face being repatriated back to the potentially dangerous situation they initially fled from. Monday’s rally served as an opportunity to show solidarity with these young people and their families, as well as to appeal to the US government to prioritize the best interests and welfare of minors who have entered the country irregularly.
The event began with a press conference held on the steps of St. Johns Episcopal Church in downtown Washington. Edwin Cruz, a minor who migrated to the US from El Salvador, begged President Obama not to ignore the welfare of detained child migrants. “Don’t turn your back on these kids, they need your help,” Cruz said. “Please give them the opportunity to stay in this country and have a better life.” Behind him, pro-immigration activists and representatives of local Latino community organizations, including Casa de Maryland and La Clínica del Pueblo, waved signs that read “Defend the rights of children fleeing from violence,” and “2 million 2 many & now our kids?”
Though the rally was primarily focused on the issue of child and adolescent migrants, organizers also addressed wider issues related to ending deportations, particularly those that separate families, and hopes for compressive and fair immigration reform. Rally attendees included young children, many of whom wore t-shirts with slogans such as “Don’t deport my mom” and “Keep my family together.”
Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of Casa de Maryland, called on the administration to stop the Secure Communities program, give deportation relief to the parents of US dependent citizens and children covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and stop deporting people who do not have criminal records. His final comment was addressed directly to President Obama: “No nos defraude,” or “don’t let us down.”
After the press conference, the protesters — with children at the forefront — marched through Lafayette Square to the White House chanting “¡Obama escucha, estamos en la lucha!” (Obama listen, we are part of the struggle), “¡No somos uno, no somos cien, somos millones, escúchanos bien!” (We are not one, we are not a hundred, we are millions, hear our voices!) and “¡Sí se puede!” (Yes we can!).
GHRC had the chance to speak with a number of the protesters including 18-year-old Mynor, who immigrated to the US from Jutiapa, Guatemala. Mynor explained that he was participating in the march to support “the undocumented, the minors, and their families.” His message to the US government reflected the appeals of many participants at the event: “End deportations and stop separating families.”