Hundreds gathered at the Capitol on Thursday night to protest the Trump administration’s recent “zero-tolerance” policy that separates children from migrant families at the border.
The event began with a 90-second long moment of silence for the families being separated at the border. Event organizers also handed out yellow wristbands so that event-goers could raise their fists in solidarity with the families.
This rally was part of a larger movement called Families Belong Together, which held events throughout the country Thursday.
One speaker at the event was Daniela Rojas, a Latin American studies senior and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient who moved to the U.S. from Colombia 11 years ago. Rojas said her parents moved to seek safety and a better future for herself and her sister.
“My parents are everything to me, they are the ones that celebrate my accomplishments, they are the ones that pick me up when I am sad,” Rojas said.”My mom is the first one I hug when I come home after a long day, and my dad is the person I go to when I need guidance or when I just need to hear a joke.”
Rojas then told the crowd to think about their own parents or children.
“I want you to take a moment and think about your parents or your kids. … Now, imagine it all being physically ripped away,” Rojas said. “That is the pain these families at the border are having to deal with.”
In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security would prosecute anyone illegally crossing the southwest border and would separate children from parents, even those seeking asylum.
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, who also spoke at the event said that through the family separation policy, Donald Trump has created a moral crisis in America.
“This family separation policy… is bigger than Donald Trump. It’s bigger than this U.S. immigration policy. It’s bigger than the entire United States,” Rodriguez said. “The United States is better than this… This is about the universal moral truth about human dignity.”
In the first two weeks of this policy, the administration forced 658 children to sleep in government-sponsored beds, while their parent or parents stayed in government-sponsored cells, said Elissa Steglich, UT clinical professor of the immigration law clinic and a speaker at the rally.
“For many mothers, … it was the first time they (had) slept apart from their children,” Steglich said. “To a mother separated from a child, the law is as painful and violent as a shot in the heart”
Steglich said U.S. immigration laws provide the right to seek asylum, and detention is not required.
“The families arriving at the southern border are fleeing greater danger in their home countries,” Steglich said. “They are coming with the trauma in the past, and we are plunging them in crisis here. Do we ever treat our neighbors this way? Do we demand arrest for trespass when a neighbor crosses into our property to escape a fire?”
Other speakers at the event included a reverend and a physician, who both advocated against the policy and said that it was both immoral and detrimental to the health of the children.
Steglich said the administration closed off all options for asylum seekers, and instead of separating families, the U.S. can and should allow them to live in community with access to attorneys, so that they continue their petitions in court.
“If your heart and mind are burdened by what is happening every moment at the border, please vote at every election and every level if you can,” Steglich said. “Let us remember these families as you celebrate father's day this weekend (and) hug your children for all the fathers who cannot. Families belong together.”