Fort Worth

Activist on immigration policy: 'Get those children back to their parents, right now!'

Take an inside look at a Texas undocumented immigrant children's shelter

The Department of Health and Human Resources takes an inside look at an undocumented immigrant children's shelter in Texas, the largest licensed child care facility in the nation. Note: video has no audio.
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The Department of Health and Human Resources takes an inside look at an undocumented immigrant children's shelter in Texas, the largest licensed child care facility in the nation. Note: video has no audio.

When Fort Worth resident Cathy Clark heard news reports that U.S. federal authorities were separating immigrant children from their parents at the Texas-Mexico border, she began an extensive quest for information that took her to multiple media sources and onto the streets in protest.

“I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was fake news. ... It's really true,” said Clark, who described being saddened to find reports of young children detained in what appeared to be "dog kennels."

Clark, a retired mental health expert for children, wants answers from the Trump administration and lawmakers. On Friday, Clark will be among protesters standing along University Drive with signs during a protest called, "Patriots for Children," planned near U.S. Rep. Kay Granger's Fort Worth office.

The Trump administration recently began a zero-tolerance immigration policy of separating children from their parents as they arrive at the U.S. border. Adults are held in detention while children are turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the policy recently to radio host Hugh Hewitt: “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve got to get this message out. You’re not given immunity.”

But reports of distraught mothers and images of children peering from behind fencing continue in the national media. This week, an exclusive McClatchy report detailed how the Trump administration is considering establishing tent cities on Texas military sites to house migrant children.

Activists nationwide are participating in a Families Belong Together national day of action on Thursday. Thousands of people across the country plan to take part in marches, rallies and vigils to protest the separation of children from their families and the administration’s new zero tolerance policy. Similar events have been taking place since the policy was announced in May.

In upcoming days, events are also planned in North Texas, including Fort Worth and Dallas.

"This is something the government is doing on our behalf and we are saying, 'No.'" said Jessica Stewart Lendvay, a concerned citizen who helped organize a Families Belong Together rally planned for Thursday in front of Dallas City Hall. “Get those children back to their parents, right now!”

Several advocacy groups took matters into their own hands at a public meeting, urging local officials to take into account immigrant families and reconsider Tarrant County Jail’s partnership with federal immigration.

A source of toxic stress

By media accounts, there were more than 150 children under 12 detained in holding pens on the border as of Wednesday. NPR reported this week that there are 10,000 migrant children in government custody.

Critics of the policy say it is wrong to separate families who are, in many cases, seeking asylum from dangerous situations. Experts worry that Trump's policy will be a source of toxic stress, developmental and emotional issues for migrant youngsters.

Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, spoke of "cruel policies" that separate families already struggling because they were forced to flee violence in their homelands.

"This is not who we are as a nation," Tanden said Wednesday during a telephone news conference on the impact of a family separation on children.

Panelists participating in the discussion included U.S. Senator Tina Smith, (D-Minn.) who called the policy a "harmful" practice that fuels terror and confusion for migrant children.

“It is using children as a deterrent,” Smith said.

Experts said that many of these youngsters will end up in local communities across the nation as they come under the wings of relatives or foster families. These youngsters will likely attend local schools as their families fight immigration cases. They will also struggle with the trauma of being separated from their parents.

'These are our kids'

Ernie Moran, an elementary teacher in Fort Worth schools and former journalist at the Star-Telegram, sees his own students in the children making headlines along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Moran said some of his students have missed school to meet with immigration attorneys or attend court hearings. Many youngsters from Central America end up in North Texas, attending schools, he said. Sometimes they talk about parents being held in detention.

That connection is taking Moran to Fort Worth streets to protest.

"These are our kids," Moran said, explaining how he started a grassroots protest near Granger's office in Fort Worth.

“This isn’t a left vs. right issue, it’s a humanitarian one,” he said.

Granger was not available for comment on Wednesday because she was attending Appropriations Committee markups all day, according to her office.

On Friday, starting at 8 a.m., Moran and others will stand at the corner of South University Drive and Old University Drive to call attention to the policy. It will be the second time they hit the streets near Granger's office for this cause. Plans are to continue this push throughout the summer, he said, adding that they only had one negative response last week — someone yelled, "Build that wall!"

Moran won't be alone. Clark plans to show up with her signs too.

"We are determined as a group to be a force for good in the world by expressing our disapproval of this policy," Clark said.

In Dallas, Julio Acosta, an organizer of the Dallas event, said they are denouncing the immigration policy and demand the closure of the Casa Padre facility in Brownsville, a shelter which has been highlighted in recent reports about family separation.

"It is unconscionable and inexcusable that the U.S. government is actively ripping children from their families, and imprisoning in the Casa Padre facility in Brownsville, Texas and other facilities around the nation, often hundreds of miles away from their families," Acosta said in a statement.

Several advocacy groups took matters into their own hands at a public meeting, urging local officials to take into account immigrant families and reconsider Tarrant County Jail’s partnership with federal immigration.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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