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‘Families, united, should never be divided’

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Thousands of impassioned Burqueños incensed over President Donald Trump’s policy of separating parents from their children at the border banded together Saturday in protest.

Chants of “Families, united, should never be divided,” rang out among the crowd, who carried signs that read “Hope not hate,” “Kids need their parents” and “Reunite families now.”

Many other signs read “I really do care, do u?,” a dig at a jacket first lady Melania Trump wore before and after her trip to visit an immigrant detention facility that had “I don’t really care, do u?” printed down its back.

“This is a situation where everyone, irrespective of abilities, our social status, our economic status and even our age are standing up against the worst thing I have seen this country do in my lifetime,” said gubernatorial candidate and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., as she addressed the throngs of people gathered in Civic Plaza.

The rally was organized by the ACLU of New Mexico, ProgressNow New Mexico, New Mexico Immigrant Law Center and several other groups as part of the nationwide “Families Belong Together” movement.

“This administration is using children, starting with (the repeal of) DACA and now these children as a means to manipulate people for their political ends,” said Liz Lilliott of Albuquerque, who was at the rally with her 8-year-old son Elias Gonzalez. “My son has questions. He wants to know, ‘Why are children being jailed?’ and I have a hard time answering those questions.”

While Trump signed an executive order last week ending the practice of separating children from their parents at the border, families are still being detained.

Around 2,000 families remain separated and protesters called for their immediate reunification.

“He (Trump) should have directed his entire team in that executive order to immediately put together a viable plan to reunite those families,” Lujan Grisham said in an interview after she addressed the crowd. “He created this crisis to push lawmakers into making a false choice between family separation and family incarceration.”

But Lujan Grisham said the Trump administration isn’t the only one to blame.

“I worry that Trump may not see this as a priority to deal with,” she said. “I feel like Bush and Obama and Clinton would have, but they’re all culpable in terms of really paying attention.”

Linda Wilson, an attorney with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, was manning an informational table for the organization near the back of the crowd.

Wilson said she has seen Trump’s hard-line immigration policies bleed into her workplace, starting with the so-called “Muslim travel ban” and moving onto those already in the country.

“Under the previous administration, the deportation was focused on criminals and people who were perceived to not be contributing positively to our communities and there was less focus on people who were just here quietly living their lives.”

She has also witnessed a change in the treatment of those seeking asylum.

While Wilson said those people should be given a “credible fear interview” once they present themselves at the border, then given a work permit and a year to file their asylum case, they’re sometimes just detained instead.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that domestic and gang violence will no longer be accepted as bases for asylum.

“This is a huge change,” Wilson said.

Martha Laura Garcia, also with the New Mexico Immigration Center, said she has recently seen detainees abandon their asylum claims in hopes they will be more quickly reunited with their children.

Though there’s now been a stop to the practice, Garcia said there is still more work to be done.

“Yeah, the government put an end to family separation at the border, but what it did was replace it with indefinite family incarcerations,” Wilson said. “That is not a solution.”

Hundreds of thousands of people showed up at more than 750 similar events around the country Saturday.

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