By Marguerite Jill Dye
RUTLAND—“Children don’t belong in cages!” stood out among the powerful signs at Rutland’s “Families Belong Together” event.
Over 150 demonstrators of all ages lined up along Routes 4 and 7 at Rutland’s Main Street Park. There were 750 nationwide marches on Saturday, June 29, in 50 states. They protested abhorrence against the zero tolerance immigration policy. People joined together for moral support, demanding migrant families be reunited and remain together.
When asked, “Why are you here?” Vermonters and visitors shared their reasons.
“I’m worried about the way our culture is changing with more signs of hate and less acceptance and love,” said protestor Beverly Darling.
Her friend Nan Dubin and Nan’s sister Ruth (visiting Vermont from Georgia) joined in. “I feel now is the time for all of us to stand up together for what we believe our country should stand for,” she said. “I can cry and scream but what we need to do is act. So we fight every day until we vote in November.”
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, recently declared that the zero tolerance policy of forcible separation was put into effect to punish families. It punishes children for the actions of their parents, he said. “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” he said.
The U.N.’s Human Rights Council further declared that the separation “may amount to torture.” It violates “the rights of the child to liberty and family unity.” And that President Donald Trump’s recent halt to the separations also does nothing to address the children who’ve already been taken from their parents. It “may lead to indefinite detention of entire families in violation of international human rights standards.”
About 2,300 “alien” children have been separated from their parents to date. A U.S. Health and Human Services official reported that 1,475 unaccompanied migrant children have yet to be accounted for. Meanwhile, more children are being scattered throughout the 30 Texas facilities, and across 14 to 16 states to 100 other shelters, making logistics even more complicated.
At the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee oversight hearing on April 26, acting Assistant Secretary of Administration for Children and Families for HHS, Steven Wagner, disclosed that the department is also uncertain as to how many of the 10,773 migrant children held in government custody since last Tuesday, June 26, were taken from their parents by force. (Those numbers represent a 21 percent increase above last month’s number of 8,886).
It is know that 658 children were separated from 638 adults between May 6-19, alone. Of the 40,000 children taken in by the Office of Refugee Resettlement last year, 93 percent were released to their parents or close relatives. The average time a child was housed in HHS shelters in recent months has increased from 51 to 56 days. Since May 30, when shelters were at 95 percent capacity, they’ve become overly crowded, yet plan to add thousands of beds in the coming weeks.
People from as far away as Massachusetts attended the rally in Rutland.
“We talked about postponing our trip because we so wanted to be in a March,” said Gail Leichtman as she looked at the crowd. “This last week has been so ghastly!”
Leichtman works at a Jewish family children’s service.
“Everyone’s trauma has been triggered,” she said.
Lori Bramhall, another protestor, nodded side to side and said, “We see our country going down the toilet,” she said.
Bonnie Brodner, who was brought up Jewish, has also felt an impact.
“What keeps going through my mind is ‘Not on my watch!’” she said. “I feel like I have a moral obligation to speak out because it’s not happening to me right now.”
As the protest came to a close, 7-year-old Sonora held up her sign and said, “Families Belong Together!”
Her mom, Caitlin Gildrien from Leicester, said, “This is the third demonstration we’ve been to in two weeks—here and in Montpelier. It feels important to show up. It’s enraging and depressing.”
Many others echoed the same sentiments. Children and families of all ages attended the protest in Rutland.
Gildrien’s son, 3 ½ year old Jasper, didn’t hesitate when asked why he was there.
“We gave out popsicles!” he said.
Photo by Duane Finger
Saturday’s protest in downtown Rutland was one of 750 held nationwide across all 50 states.