Families Belong Together

By Karla Henriquez

Karla Henriquez shares her experience of immigrating to the United States to highlight the importance of a critical look at the U.S. recent policy changes. If you would like to join Karla and others in the upcoming march this Saturday June 30th, please contact Karla at kvh2107@columbia.edu.

We held each other close, the three of us clasping hands and crying to ourselves, as my parents fought in the next room. We could only hear the noise of things being thrown, my mom begging him to stop. We yelled for them to stop too, but they never listened.

The next day my mom would wake up and put on her white nurse uniform trying and failing to cover the bruises from the night before under layer after layer of foundation.

One day, my mom decided to take a trip up to Oakland, California to visit her sisters who moved there during the Salvadoran Civil War, a brutal conflict which was supported and financed by the U.S. government. We thought it was only a trip, but then we received the call that she was going to stay.

I was still so young at the time and could not understand why she left us, why she was not there for my 11th birthday or for my basketball games, but later I saw that she had reached a breaking point. She was tasked with an impossible choice: stay and perhaps die, or leave her family and maybe find a little bit of hope? While the precise source of the violence may be distinct, this is the choice many parents make when they choose to leave El Salvador.

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a ruling that made it harder for immigrants who are victims of domestic or gang violence to be granted asylum in the U.S.  This ruling would have made it almost impossible for my mom and my sisters to become citizens. The “no tolerance” policies are not only inhumane, but also racist. Sessions’ actions are not surprising after, then candidate, Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and labeling Haiti, El Salvador, and others as shithole countries. Not only has the 45th made the assumption that immigrants are all part of MS13 but that we are also animals, and he has no intention of stopping. From challenging Obama's executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, DACA, to ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS), TPS for some of the most vulnerable communities, the 45th continues attacking immigrant communities and violating human rights at the Mexico-United States border. As a consequence of these racially charged policies, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has opened an unprecedented number of cases against Trump.

Perhaps the most disgusting side of it all is that over 2,000 children have been detained and separated from their parents in only six weeks. Pictures have been released of children being held in cages and sleeping on the floor, and audio of children crying and begging for their parents. There is no way to justify the Trump administration's actions. They are cruel, insensitive, and repeating some of the darkest episodes in U.S. history. I’ve made the mistake of scrolling down to the comment section after reading an article and cannot do anything else but get angry and hopeless at the lack of compassion some people show towards these children. From saying how these children are criminals, to encouraging this behavior, if this is the 45th’s way to create propaganda to feed his base, then he is achieving that. But what many Trump supporters might not realize is the hardships many asylum seekers endure before choosing to come to the U.S. and the sacrifices they make for their family in order to do that.

While the immigration debate is not new, it is also important to note that the Obama Administration deported more immigrants than any other president before him and set the stage for this administration to continue implementing these types of immigration policies. Both Democrats and Republicans have failed immigrants. We should not have to explain our humanity with numbers or statistics of how much immigrants add to the economy or have the good immigrant versus bad immigrant debate in order for us to feel deserving.

As a former undocumented immigrant, I cannot let go of the thought that it could have been me, or that those children could be my nieces and nephews. Regardless of where you stand in the immigration debate, children should not live under these conditions which will add to the trauma they have already endured in their home countries. Yes, we need to fix our immigration policies, but this is not the way.

If you want to take action please consider doing one or a couple of the following:

  1. Volunteer: The Texas Civil Rights project is looking for volunteers who speak Spanish, Mam, K’iche’ and have paralegal or legal assistance experience.

  2. Donate: This article provides a comprehensive list of organizations you could support.

  3. Call your representative: Even if you are not a U.S. citizen, you can still call the representative from where you are residing.  Find out who your representative is here and a transcript of what to say here.

  4. Join a protest: To attend a protest near you, check out this link.

  5. Speak out!: Talk to your family and friends about the human rights crisis going on at the border and invite them to take action.

UPDATE: As of this past Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order to stop child separation and instead have family detention centers. This does not in any way fix the issue, immigrants and their children seeking legal asylum are still criminalized by this administration.