President Donald Trump's policy of separating parents and children along the U.S.-Mexico border drew critics Friday during a protest in Fort Worth near U.S. Rep. Kay Granger's office.
Calling themselves Patriots for the Children, teachers, speech pathologists, mental health specialists and self-described Christians were among the 79 peaceful protesters who lined up along University Drive at 8 a.m. with a message for lawmakers: "Reunite children with their Parents! Now!"
The protesters, who also held signs with biblical verses, stood on the public sidewalk near 1701 River Run, which is Granger's local office. A message to Granger's office was not immediately returned Friday morning.
The protesters joined critics nationwide who want the Trump administration to end the so-called zero tolerance policy on the border, which criminally prosecutes people crossing the border illegally, even those seeking asylum. Nationwide, activists have been holding rallies and protests called "Families Belong Together."
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"I had to do something," said Peggy Pate, who came from Arlington to voice her concerns. "It's an unchristian affront against humanity."
Pate echoed the concerns of several protesters who also admonished U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. Sessions quoted the Bible in defense of the policy this week.
Sessions told an audience in Indiana: "Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order," Sessions said. "Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful."
Pate's answer to Sessions: "Jesus would be out here with a sign."
Friday's protest ended with participants walking to a foyer in the building where Granger's office is located. Participants hope to garner Granger's attention on this issue. Among participants was Vanessa Adia, a teacher and Granger's Democratic opponent in the mid-term elections.
"I am here today — along with all of these other people — to stand up for the side that is right," Adia said, explaining that protesters are uniting against a policy they believe is "inhumane."
Lawmakers have been weighing in on the issue. Earlier this week, media reports stated that Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas) defended the policy. He said migrant children can't be detained with parents in jails.
"So when you see reporters, when you see Democrats saying don't separate kids from their parents, what they're really saying is don't arrest illegal aliens," Cruz told Dallas Public Radio Station KERA. He likened the situation to American citizens who are arrested and placed in prison and have to find alternative care for their youngsters.
But Bill Holston, executive director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, said this issue is more complicated than this comparison because the government is supposed to review claims of asylum made by people coming into this country. In the past, families were typically paroled together while claims of asylum went through the immigration court system.
“What changed is that there is a zero tolerance,” Holston said, explaining that people who cross illegally into the United States are now charged with an "improper entry," which is a misdemeanor type offense for first-time violators. Repeat offenders —those who have been caught and charged with crossing the border in the past — can face tougher charges, he said.
“Everyone is being prosecuted and now you are creating a class of unaccompanied minors,” Holston said, explaining that when parents are incarcerated, the children are placed in the system created for unaccompanied migrant children. “That’s why all of these shelters are overwhelmed.”
A continued protest
Emily Daw, an English teacher at Western Hills High School, said one reason she protested Friday was because she thinks immigrant children are being used a political pawns.
"It's not right to tear families apart — who are trying to get to get to safety, who are trying to get a better life," Daw said.
Ernie Moran, another local school teacher and former journalist, planned the grassroots protest. He said they will protest again next Friday and will continue throughout the summer "until the policy change is rescinded."
The first protest, held last week, drew six participants, Moran said.
Moran said the issue transcends the politics of blue vs. red or Democrat vs. Republican.
"This is not a left vs. right thing," Moran said.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.