Long Island religious leaders and pediatricians gathered in Huntington on Thursday to protest the practice of children being separated from their families during border-crossing arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Dr. Eve Krief, a Huntington pediatrician who founded the advocacy group Long Island Inclusive Communities Against Hate, organized the protest.
Krief said she is disturbed by a new Trump administration immigration policy, which calls for increased prosecution of border crossers. Immigrants come to the United States for asylum and are instead met with aggression, she and other protesters said.
“We are here to say that this policy is not acceptable on legal, ethical or moral grounds,” said Dr. Steven Goldstein, president of New York Chapter 2 of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Immigrant children are still children and they need our help, not our persecution.”
In May, the Trump administration announced a stricter border patrol policy aimed at preventing illegal immigration. Any migrant caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border will be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice and could face jail time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said.
According to U.S. immigration enforcement procedure, any child of a parent detained for prosecution is placed with an adult sponsor or in a shelter.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said at a law enforcement conference in Arizona. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
The new policy has resulted in hundreds of children being separated from their parents at the border, advocates said Thursday. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ refugee resettlement division shows that 700 children have been taken from adults since October, with more than 100 of those children under the age of four.
The Long Island demonstrators joined others across the country who spoke out against the Trump administration’s policy Thursday.
Outside Rep. Peter King’s office in Massapequa, protesters held up signs that read “Long Island families belong together” and “Stop family separation.” The rally was organized by several groups, including Action Together Long Island, Together We Will Long Island, Make the Road New York, and New York Second District Democrats.
Organizer Walter Barrientos said they were hoping King would comment on ICE raids in his district.
“We believe that what is happening to families here in our communities, but also at the border, is a result of that rhetoric,” he said. “So, I think everyone is here to say that enough is enough.”
King (R-Seaford), while supporting ICE raids to stem the flow of illegal immigration, said he and some of his colleagues are looking for ways to allow children to remain in the same facilities as their parents.
The congressman said legislation to address the issue, part of an immigration reform bill, is expected to be introduced next Tuesday or Wednesday and voted on at the end of the week.
“The intention is to have facilities where adults and children can stay together,” King said in an interview.
The legislation, he said, would also allow the children to be transported safely back to the country of origin.
One religious leader said the policy is fostering resentment among young people toward the United States.
“You want the perfect recruiting tool for MS-13, well, this is it,” said the Rev. Marie Tatro, the community justice vicar for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. The policy, she added, is “demonizing immigrants and demonizing immigration itself.”