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Families Belong Together

Protesters carried a variety of signs against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies in Huntington Station June 30. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

While the Trump administration has rescinded its policy of separating immigrant children from their parents as they cross the U.S-Mexican border, local groups have continued to protest what they see is a huge miscarriage of justice.

“It was government sanctioned child abuse,” said Dr. Eve Krief, a Huntington pediatrician and founder of the Long Island Inclusive Communities Against Hate advocacy group. “Some kids might not ever see their parents again, and that’s horrendous — its criminal.”

Krief has worked along with fellow advocates Sharon Golden, co-founder of the political action network Together We Will Long Island, and Pilar Moya, co-founder of Latinos Unidos of Long Island, who have been hosting Families Belong Together rallies since the beginning of June to protest the family separations. The second rally was held June 30 as part of a nationwide day of protest. Nearly 50 organizations and close to 1,000 people attended, according to Krief.

From left, Sharon Golden of Together We Will Long Island and Dr. Eve Krief of Long Island Inclusive Communities Against Hate have organized the Huntington area Families Belong Together rallies, pictured above. Photo from Eve Krief

Before the 2016 presidential election, Krief said she was politically aware but had never been much of an activist. After Charlottesville Unite the Right rally that saw neo-Nazis marching in the street and events leading up to the death of a young political activist, she decided to establish her group to protest the Trump administration’s policies.

In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instituted the zero-tolerance policy that meant any adult that was arrested upon entering the United States would have their child given over to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and be placed with a sponsor. The policy has led to more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents at the border.

A federal judge ruled that the separation was unlawful and gave two dates that the children must be reunited. All children under 5 were to be rejoined with their parents by July 10, and then all other children by July 26. Those dates came and went, and though the federal government claimed it had reunited all separated children, close to 700 were still not reunited with their parents due to some having criminal records and other red flags, or because some have already been deported while their children were still left in the U.S., according to CNN.

“Clearly, people thought that the problem was gone and resolved,” Krief said. “It’s clear that this administration had no plan when they separated them to reunify them.”

The groups will continue to protest. On July 29, the advocacy groups hosted another Families Belong Together rally at the intersection of Jericho Turnpike and Route 110 in Huntington Station. They are advocating for congressional oversight and transparency into the actions of the Trump administration during the period of family separation and for the children who must still be reunited with the parents, that the children receive trauma counseling, that the children and parents not be moved into detention centers and that those who came to the country seeking asylum be given the opportunity to go through the legal asylum process.

Nobody it seems is looking to heal these children. When a child is crying out for their momma, when babies are being taken away, they have no information to give them.

– Shannon Golden

Latinos Unidos Moya said that her nonprofit organization aids Latino immigrants and groups across Long Island and that the rallies that they host go beyond politics.

“I think it is more of a humanitarian crisis,” she said. “Our efforts are in finding common ground among all the parties, Republicans Democrats and Independents.”

Golden, who works as a therapist, said she has seen the traumatizing effects of children being separated from their parents in some of the adults with whom she has worked.

“These effects are life-lasting,” she said. “Nobody it seems is looking to heal these children. When a child is crying out for their momma, when babies are being taken away, they have no information to give them.”

There is no firm estimate about how long it will take the government to fully reunite the children with their parents, or what its policy will be if they are unable to find every parent who had been separated from their child. Meanwhile, Krief and her allies said they plan to continue holding rallies and
protesting. Their only hope is that awareness of the issue does not die.

“We will continue as long as we see there hasn’t been justice,” Krief said.

Hundreds of Huntington area residents took a clear stand against President Donald Trump’s (R) immigration policies at the corner of Jericho Turnpike and Route 110 June 30.

Standing two to three people deep on all four sides of the intersection, protesters held signs with messages of “Families belong together,” “No human is illegal” and homemade signs calling for “Reunite families.”  The chant of “Love not hate makes America great” was taken up as a refrain. Each honk from a passing car or truck providing the crowd of more than 600 — an unofficial estimate — with a new wave of energy to combat the sweltering heat.

At a podium set up at the northwest corner of the intersection, speakers from a coalition of more than 50 organizations — including Long Island Inclusive Communities Against Hate, New York Chapter 2 of The American Academy of Pediatrics, Latinos Unidos de Long Island, Sepa Mujer and many others — took turns speaking to those gathered on a bullhorn.

We hope our rally displays the love and compassion we hope that America can represent as well as the hopeful and powerful nature of our democracy.”
– Pilar Moya

“We hope our rally displays the love and compassion we hope that America can represent as well as the hopeful and powerful nature of our democracy,” said Pilar Moya, founder of Latinos Unidos de Long Island, a nonprofit organization that helps provide support and a community for Latino families. “Our message to the families separated at the border is, ‘You matter, and our voices are our extensions of yours.’”

More than 2,300 immigrant parents and their children were separated after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions enacted a zero-tolerance policy for those who crossed the border illegally in mid-April. After public outcry, Trump signed an executive order June 20 designed to end the family separations. The policy has been both denounced by members of the Trump administration as a holdover Obama-era procedure and publicly cited as a new strategy intentionally instituted to deter asylum seekers from trying to come to America.

“Our mission is to protect the health and well-being of all children, regardless of their immigration status,” said Dr. Steve Goldstein, pediatrician and president of New York Chapter 2 of The American Academy of
Pediatrics. “We want to see immediate reunification of those children already taken from their parents. We oppose housing families and children in detention centers and prefer community settings for them and we want to see timely determinations of applications for asylum.”

Despite Trump’s executive order, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told the U.S. Senate Finance Committee last week that there were still 2,047 children in federal custody as of the last week of June.

“As a therapist working with adults who have PTSD resulting from childhood  traumas, what is being done to children separated from their parents is creating trauma that is everlasting,” said Sharon Golden, founder of Together We Will — Long Island, which identifies as an advocacy group for human rights. “I cannot accept what is going on and how the immigrant community is being treated, and I will stand by them and continue to fight for them until they are given the rights they deserve.”

Activists wave to drivers beeping their support during the Families Belong Together rally in Setauket June 30. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

Two grassroots activist groups have become staples on the corners of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket every Saturday, but this past weekend residents out and about likely noticed something different on the south side.

Activists join members of the North Country Peace group for a Families Belong Together rally in Setauket June 30. By Rita J. Egan

While a dozen or two members of the North Country Peace Group meet every Saturday at 11 a.m. with signs in tow on the southeast corner of the intersection, and a similar number of conservatives, members of the North Country Patriots, gather on the other side, June 30 the south side drew approximately 300 activists as the NCPG hosted a Families Belong Together rally. The protest was organized to stand in unison with hundreds of thousands of Americans across the nation who participated in similar events in several cities including Washington, D.C., New York City and Miami.

The rallies were held to protest the separation of immigrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border that occurred as a result of President Donald Trump’s (R) newly instituted zero-tolerance policy for prosecuting illegal immigration, which has resulted in the detention of thousands. Trump recently signed an executive order meant to end the policy, though many families remain separated as officials work to undo the effects of the policy.

Attendees held signs that read, “11,869 children held captive”; “Yes, Melania, we do care”; and “Put ICE on ice.” NCPG members said many children are still separated from their families and there are fears that many may never find their parents.

Activists join members of the North Country Peace group for a Families Belong Together rally in Setauket June 30. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“This is not what our country is about,” said Myrna Gordon, of Port Jefferson. “Detaining children — separating families — is a crime, and this is the time that we now all have to come together and resist the policies of the Trump administration. Detaining families is not a solution. It’s a jail sentence that some of our immigrant brothers and sisters are facing.”

Many on hand at the rally said they felt the current situation is reminiscent of the Holocaust.

“We need to remind all Americans of the horrors that preceded the Holocaust,” said Marci Lobel of Setauket. “This is reminiscent of what occurred in Europe in the lead up to the Third Reich, and we have to stand up for what is right, what is humane, what is civil and what is lawful. These people are coming to our country seeking asylum. All human decency dictates that we stand up to protect them. If we don’t stand up for them, who will?”

Setauket’s Susan Perretti said she sees the separation of families along with cuts to Medicare and ineffective gun laws as moral issues.

“It’s almost like we have forgotten about the common good,” Perretti said. “So, my big cry is, ‘Whatever happened to the common good?’”

Activists join members of the North Country Peace group for a Families Belong Together rally in Setauket June 30. Photo by Rita J. Egan

While the North Country Patriots didn’t organize a counter-rally, about two dozen members stood on the corner like they do every Saturday, except this week a handful remained until around 3 p.m. just like a few on the other side did.

Jim Soviero, of East Setauket, said the peace group’s rally reminded him of his nephew who was a solider in Iraq 14 years ago and separated from his young children, and the Angel Families in this country whose loved ones were killed by undocumented immigrants.

“You have over two dozen Angel Families that were separated, and they will never be united,” he said. “When my nephew went overseas, he was separated, and he never knew if he was going to be reunited.”

Setauket’s Howard Ross, who held a pro-life sign, said he and others were upset by a sign across the street that read, “God is Watching.”

“How can they stand there and say protect immigrant children and not protect our own children,” Ross said. “There are 1,000 babies being murdered every day due to abortions.”

Setauket resident George Altemose said the stance of conservatives is misunderstood.

Members of the conservative organization North Country Patriots stand across the street with signs like they do every Saturday on the day of the rally. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“Nobody wants to see families broken up,” Altemose said. “Nobody wants to see kids in jail. I think what we would like to see — we would like to see everybody obey the law as it stands.”

Altemose said he feels obeying the laws applies to everyone, from immigrants to the president, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and those who don’t like a law, need to follow it until it is changed.

“I think that the other side implies that this side likes to see children taken away and put in custody and families broken up, and it’s just not true,” Altemose said. “I don’t think anybody likes that.”

Back over on the Families Belong Together rally side, NCPG member Bill McNulty said one day a woman asked him about his stance on immigration and families being separated. He said he told her that many Central American countries’ social orders have been disrupted by American policies leading to violence. McNulty said the woman told him that people still should not cross the U.S. border illegally.

“I said, ‘Madam, if you were involved in the violence that these people are facing in these disrupted countries, you would take steps to protect yourself too,’” McNulty said.

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