SWARTHMORE>> The first heat wave of the year didn’t stop hundreds from crowding the town center of Swarthmore Saturday afternoon in a united front to protest President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy that separated children from their parents while illegally crossing the border together.
Swarthmore was one of hundreds of communities nationwide to take a stand Saturday hosting events with a common phrase: Families belong together.
“Why are we here at this moment? What is it that we hope to achieve by coming together?” asked Congregation Ohev Shalom Rabbi Jeremy Gerber. “I want to be honest with you, that this feels grim. We’re here because it feels so painful. I know that you are as well, but I’m angry. More than just angry about this policy, I’m angry and I’m scared because I feel powerless.
“What do we do when we disagree with our elected officials? But more fundamentally, what do we do when in disagreeing that we know deep in the fabric of our being that this is wrong?”
One elected official who spoke at the Saturday event against the hard-line policy separating families was state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161, of Nether Providence. She said she was on the state House floor when the stories broke in June about the severity of families being separated; upwards of 2,000 families who have had their children sent to detention-like camps as parents await prosecution. Soon after the stories were published audio recordings were shared with the media where children are heard crying and screaming for their parents.
“As a mother, I listened to the audio clips of the children crying for their parents,” she said. “I felt disbelief that this could be happening in our country, under our watch, and then I felt anger and grief and then I cried,” Krueger-Braneky said. “I pictured my own son Wendell in those cages and I could not fathom how I would respond if he was ripped out of my arms.”
To speak to the legal access of children torn from their families was Anna Shenberger, strategic director for CASA Youth Advocates Inc., an organization where volunteers become court-appointed advocates for a child in the foster care system.
“One of the things that I’ve been thinking of as I look to compare our work at CASA Youth Advocates with what’s happening with the children who have been separated from their parents is that the children that we work with, that we give a voice to in the courtroom have a critical difference: They actually are in a courtroom … they’re not removed from their parents without a full evidentiary hearing,” said Shenberger. “To think that there are 2,000 children in shelters and facilities that are understaffed and don’t have that individual caring adult to work with those children … is morally unsustainable.
“It’s calling on all of us to take action like we’re doing today and to think about the small actions that give us hope.”
Some small steps have been made for people who have been boisterous against the policy.
On June 20 President Trump, under fire even from many in his own party, signed an executive order that ended the policy of separating children from their parents. Then on June 27 a federal judge ordered that those parents be reunited with their children under the age 5 within 14 days, and those 5 or older within 30 days.
“It’s very traumatic for these kids to be separated from their parents,” said HIAS Pennsylvania Know Your Rights Coordinator Mary McCabe. McCabe works with migrant families at a detention center in Berks County and has heard stories of families who have been separated at the border, and children who say America is better for them than their own countries. “These kids are all desperate to get back to their moms and dads.”
McCabe called the federal judge’s order to reunite the families a huge victory, adding that each day kids are kept apart from their families is,“one day too many.”
Gerber said these young souls are at risk of being damaged for the rest of their lives because of the forced separations.
“Some of that damage is, likely, already done to these poor children and to their families,” said Gerber. “We’re here to demand that these vulnerable, depressed lives are saved from disaster. We are here because families belong together.”
Gerber was one of almost 20 spiritual leaders who are part of the Interfaith Council of Southern Delaware County who signed a statement expressing relief that the policy has ended and that, “the heart of all our faith traditions is the centrality of the family unit.”
“Every tradition represented in our diverse interfaith council affirms a commitment to love our neighbors and to care for ‘the least among us.’ As people of faith, we cannot stand idly by; we must speak and we must act,” read a portion of the statement.