Immigrants and grassroots organizations in the Triangle rallied Tuesday to oppose the separation of families at the southern border and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries.
Demonstrations are planned across North Carolina and the United States on Saturday to protest the separation of parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border. Protesters in the Triangle got a head start Tuesday by gathering in front of the Federal Building in Raleigh.
Later in the evening, another group of protesters gathered in front of the same building to protest the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to keep the travel ban in effect.
Among those who gathered earlier in the day was María, a mother who immigrated from Chiapas, Mexico, more than a decade ago.
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"I came to this country with the hopes of helping my family, but I never imagined making my life in this country, since I came with a dream," María told the protesters who gathered. "This dream became a nightmare and I began to live in fear."
The News & Observer is not using her last name because she and her partner are not authorized to be in the country and fear for their safety if their status is known.
She told the crowd about the fear she wakes up with every day.
“When my partner goes to work, every day, I see when he leaves, but I do not know if he will return,” María said. “This is my reality.”
She has four children, all born here, with her partner. María doesn't currently work because she takes care of her children.
Her speech was delivered in Spanish and translated for the crowd by Florence Simán, the health program director at El Pueblo.
Since 2014, hundreds of thousands of children and families have fled to the United States seeking asylum because of rampant violence and gang activity in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. U.S. laws provide asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants, but Trump and others in his administration say smugglers, gang members and others are exploiting the laws to get into the United States.
With the uptick in border crossings, the Trump administration imposed a "zero-tolerance" policy in the spring and detained immigrants caught crossing into the country outside specific points of entry.
Another speaker at the rally, Santtanna Rivera, is a 17-year-old intern with El Pueblo.
“My family hasn’t talked about this stuff because it’s something we’ve always had to deal with,” Rivera said, referring to the latest controversy at the border.
“People just want to ignore the contributions that we make. Financial. People love to talk about numbers. And if you want to talk about numbers, we bring in taxes,” Rivera said.
Nathalia Diego Cruz, another young intern with El Pueblo, says fear of immigrants isn’t rooted in logic.
“I wish they understood that people don’t just come here and just steal jobs. Like, who comes to a country and just leave all their family,” Diego Cruz said. “People are coming to survive and it’s annoying how people think we just want to steal resources.”
Both Rivera and Diego Cruz are children of immigrant parents, and their families migrated to the United States from Mexico.
Eliazar Posada, the community engagement and advocacy manager at El Centro Hispano, said there are ways to fight against family separation.
“Today, my message is simple. We need to make our voices heard. The way us citizens can do that is by voting,” Eliazar said.
Protesters called on Sen. Thom Tillis, whose office is inside the Federal Building, to stand against family separation.
Family separation bills in Congress
Congress is working on several proposals to deal with the family separation issue.
Senate Republicans and Democrats have rallied around separate bills. Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, is one of the lead sponsors on the Republican measure, which is backed by more than 30 senators.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Tillis met Monday with Democratic Sens. Diane Feinstein of California and Chuck Schumer of New York to work on a compromise between the two measures. The group is expected to meet again later this week, Tillis said.
“A lot of people are talking. They’re not coming in and saying, ‘Until you address this provision, we can’t really talk with you.’ People are talking — that’s positive,” Tillis said.
But big differences remain.
Tillis said the group is trying to gather information on exactly how many children are separated from their parents, how many immigration judges are needed to expedite hearings and what kind of accommodations are needed for detained families.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a Senate committee that 2,047 migrant children are still being held by the agency. Tillis said another 200 to 300 judges are needed and he is not in favor of so-called “tent cities” being constructed to house detained families.
Tillis said most cases are decided within 30 to 60 days — longer than the 20 days the government is allowed to hold families, per a 1997 court decree known as Flores.
“What’s that reasonable amount of time and when it exceeds that amount of time what sorts of options could we look at?” Tillis said. “It could be electronic tracking or other options.”
But Democratic congressional members are not interested in extending the amount of time families can be held.
“Legislation might be a good thing, but we all know the path to legislation is fraught with peril – passing the House, passing the Senate, being signed by the president. That hasn’t happened in a while,” Schumer said.
Also on Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration's travel ban against five predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — as well as North Korea and Venezuela. Chad, another Muslim-majority country, was originally on the list and later removed.
Citizens of those countries are forbidden from emigrating to the U.S.
At the protest in Raleigh, Faisal Khan, the director of Carolina Peace Center, called the decision "a huge blow to our constitution and our democracy for Muslim Americans, and for Muslims coming from abroad, but also to our democratic institutions."
Khan also spoke about the events taking place along the southern U.S. border.
“This is barbarism," Khan said. "This is inhumane to treat families like that, so we need to get engaged peacefully, strategically and tactfully."
On Tuesday evening, several advocacy groups gathered in front of the Federal Building in Raleigh.
Some had attended the previous protest that day, including Khan of Carolina Peace Center.
Manzoor Cheema, one of the founders of Muslims for Social Justice, called the Supreme Court's decision an attack on people of color.
"This country was founded (by) people escaping religious persecution, violence, economic hardship," Cheema said. "(They) found refuge in this country. But if they happen to be black, brown and Muslim somehow they become illegal human beings."
Jennie Belle, an organizer for Church World Service, which has branches in Charlotte and Greensboro, helps refugees settle in North Carolina.
The travel ban, which has been in place since December, could prevent people who live in the Triangle from seeing their families living in the affected countries, Belle said.
"Think about all the big moments in their life — graduations, weddings — things that they'll never be able to take part in," Belle said.