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Congressman Denny Heck

Representing the 10th District of Washington

Thousands rally against separating migrant families: ‘As a mother, I’m enraged’

Jun 30, 2018
In The News

Thousands rallied at the Capitol on Saturday to protest the federal policy of separating migrant children and parents, with chants of “Keep the families together” and “Vote.”

“We know that separating children from their mothers and their families is wrong. It’s morally reprehensible and it can do long-term damage to their development,” said U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, the 10th District Democrat who represents the Olympia area in Congress.

He described his mother-in-law being separated from her family as a child after arriving in the U.S. from Italy. “The hidden injuries can stay with them forever.”

Thousands of children were separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration. A June 20 executive order called for an end to the practice, but many families have yet to be reunited.

The rally in Olympia was one of hundreds of demonstrations that took place across the country Saturday.

Steffani Powell, an immigration attorney in Olympia, told the crowd about a woman from Guatemala she talked to this week who was separated from her son in May.

When the woman was finally able to talk to him on the phone a month later, Powell said, the boy pleaded for her to come back to him.

“His father was only recently murdered, and this little boy is sitting in a detention center in one state wondering why his mother left him and hasn’t returned,” Powell said, calling it an “unnecessary trauma” for the mother and child.

Alejandra Esqueda Hunt of the group CIELO in Olympia went with Powell recently to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma to talk with parents separated from their children.

“Most of them appeared to be broken. Their faces looked like they didn’t have hope. They were scared, tired, they felt like they were not treated like human beings,” Hunt, who is a immigrant from Mexico, told the crowd.

Lynn Dilley of Rainier stood on the Capitol steps wrapped in a space blanket, a nod to the blankets immigration authorities give to detained children.

“We’re literally locking up kids. When you think about that, in the United States in 2018, we’re tearing kids away from their families,” she said. “My feeling is that if they can do this to anyone, what’s to stop them from doing it to the rest of us?”

Lynda Zeman of Lacey came to the rally with her 2-year-old son.

“Everybody should be upset by it, but as a mother, I’m enraged,” said Zeman, who is seven months pregnant. “It’s overwhelming to think about -- you can empathize so easily.”

Paul Gallegos of the Olympia-based Hispanic Roundtable sold T-shirts from the back of a pickup that read “I CARE ABOUT IMMIGRANTS’ RIGHTS… DO U?”

“The president’s wife was our inspiration,” said Gallegos, referring to the jacket Melania Trump wore in June on her way to visit migrant children that read “I REALLY DON’T CARE. DO U?”

Gallegos said money from the T-shirt sales will go to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Bar Association’s ProBAR Children’s Project, which offers legal services to children detained in Texas.