Several hundred San Antonians turned out Thursday to voice their outrage against a Trump administration policy that is separating parents and children when they cross the border illegally.
“Where are the children” is the hashtag driving the debate online about immigration with minors who have come across the border unaccompanied and those separated from their parents.
As Stephanie Lafroscia waited in the 99 degree heat for the “Where are the children” rally to begin, she fanned her 7-month old son.
“This is Rocko,” she said.
Lafroscia said she’s infuriated by the family separation policy and she’s unable to process how she’d react if that happened to her.
“I cant — I just cant. If things are so bad that you are leaving your home and risking the trauma and the violence that can happen to you on the journey then we have to take that seriously,” she said.
In early May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new get-tough stance on unauthorized border crossers.
“I have put in place a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry on our southwest border," he said. "If you cross the border unlawfully, we will prosecute you — it’s that simple.
“If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law."
San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro, who organized the rally, said that Sessions and President Donald Trump are wrong about the law.
“It’s not written into law either by Republicans or Democrats that families have to be separated at the border," he said.
Trump tweeted Saturday that Democrats are responsible for the “horrible law that separated children from their parents.”
But Castro said, "In many ways the President is gaslighting the country once again, as he does on many issues. But the fact that he would not own up to his own policy shows you how ashamed and embarrassed he is that he won’t even own it. And he should be ashamed because he’s treating people as if they are not even human.”
Castro said almost 700 children are separated from their families in a two week period in May.
“Those are devastating numbers in a short period of time,” he said.
During the rally, Castro told the crowd these family separations are unnecessary, cause extreme harm and violate the ideals the nation was founded on.
“We must treat people with respect and has human beings and we can still enforce our immigration laws but do it in a way that is consistent with American values,” he said.
Under Trump's “zero tolerance” policy, the children once separated from their parents will be treated as unaccompanied minors in the system, and communication between the two will be restricted during the process.
To help children navigate immigration court, the San Antonio-based immigration rights project RIACES is launching a project to provide free legal services.
Justin Tullius, an attorney for RIACES, said there have been cases where parents and children are brought back together.
“We had one mother we worked with who herself was imprisoned in an immigration detention camp and only after she won her own asylum case — not with her child; not seeing her child; not knowing what was going on with her child — only then did she get released and after a year period that mom and that child are back together again,” Tullius said.
Tullius said that might seem like a happy ending, but this mother and child lived apart for a year with the uncertainty of deportation and not knowing if they would ever see each other again.