Congressman James McGovern, D-Worcester, and undocumented immigrant Lucio Perez, who is taking sanctuary at the First Congressional Church in Amherst, will make a joint call to end inhumane practices at the U.S.-Mexico border on Saturday.
“President Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents is cruel, it is un-American, and it is evil,” McGovern said in a written statement. “There is no law requiring that these children be ripped away from their parents – this is a policy of choice. In fact, U.S. and international law specifically protects those who arrive at our border seeking asylum.”
McGovern, Perez, and other immigrant and faith leaders will speak at a public press conference on Saturday, June 23, at 4 p.m. at the First Congregational Church. They will discuss both family separation at the U.S. border and mass deportation of immigrant parents throughout the U.S. interior.
Perez himself is separated from his family. While he maintains sanctuary in Amherst, his wife, a U.S. citizen, and children, three out of four of whom are U.S. citizens, reside in Springfield.
Mcgovern will discuss his experience visiting a detention center for unaccompanied children in 2014, a facility he says is now being used to house children taken away from their parents at the border.
The Trump administration instituted a “zero tolerance” policy in April, in which all people suspected of illegally crossing the border are prosecuted criminally, even asylum-seeking refugees who are legally requesting asylum. During the criminal prosecution process, families have been separated as a result of detention facilities being unable to accommodate children.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order allowing children to remain with their parents as they are detained to await a hearing on whether they have credible asylum claims, but McGovern said this does not solve the problem.
“His executive order simply replaces one barbaric policy with another by keeping entire families incarcerated indefinitely in prison-like conditions,” McGovern said.
More than 2,300 children were separated from their parents as a result of the “zero tolerance” policy.
Perez will speak about his experiences coming to the U.S. as a 17-year-old, working in chicken processing factories and then as a landscaper. Facing deportation, Perez took sanctuary in the Amherst church in October and has been living there since. He and his family will talk about their own experience with separation and their concern for the other 45 people living in sanctuary nationally, including Irida Kakhtiranova, who is taking sanctuary in a Northampton church. Kakhtiranova will not attend the event, but will send a written statement, which will be read there.
An Amherst high school student will also speak at the event about her fear about her mother being deportation as a result of the end of Temporary Protective Status for Salvadorans, a policy ended by the Trump administration in January.
Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrant Protection Project in Massachusetts will share information about the detentions and deportations locally at the event, and about their efforts to keep families united.
“Separation of families at the border and through deportation is causing incredible trauma to children and our broader communities. The Perez family is one of millions who our government has failed to protect for years, even as Americans have repeatedly called for just immigration reform. As this crisis worsens, we must stand with our immigrant neighbors and call for an end to deportations,” said Rev. Margaret Sawyer, Organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.