Families Belong Together
WILKES-BARRE — Marilyn Calderon is Puerto Rican, but has family and friends from El Salvador and Honduras — two of the countries from which migrants are trickling in at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.
“They prefer coming here with the kids and traveling through two countries, because they are safe,” she said, referring to migrants who are fleeing gang violence, drug cartels, and poverty in their native lands.
Calderon, a resident of Freeland who ran for the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee earlier this year, was one of several speakers at the Families Belong Together rally held Saturday on Public Square.
The event was co-sponsored by Action Together NEPA and Move On, a national organization that’s involved with political as well as social justice issues. Similar protests were held in various cities across the country Saturday, including in Washington, D.C., to speak out against the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy. That policy includes criminally prosecuting and jailing people caught crossing the border illegally and in the process separating migrant children from their parents by holding them at different sites.
Bowing to political pressure, President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week requiring migrant families caught at the border to be detained together. However, critics say the order isn’t enough.
“I don’t think it fixes anything,” said Amanda Rowe, of Nanticoke, who helped organize the rally. “I think it just sugarcoats it.” Rowe and other demonstrators called for a complete end to “Zero Tolerance.”
“How could this be happening in the United States of America?” asked state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre. “You’re gonna take a child from a mother, a father.”
Rowe, who has a 10-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son, grew greatly concerned the day she heard audio of children crying after being separated from their parents.
“I can’t imagine the despair I would feel if something like this were to happen to me and my children,” she said.
Dr. Donna Hamilton, a former pediatrician, described the situation occurring at the border and in detention centers across the country as “government-sanctioned child abuse.”
“There’s a principle in community pediatrics that all children are our children,” she said.
Hamilton also serves as the CEO of Manifest Excellence LLC, an East Stroudsburg-based company dedicated to teaching and advising about mental, emotional and physical health.
“What we know is what’s happening at the border and to all of our children who have been spread out around the country is that they’re being traumatized and experiencing toxic stress,” she said.
The short-term effects of toxic stress include changes in mood, behavior, sleep patterns, appetite and a vulnerability to depression.
Even though the issue may seem far away and removed from Northeastern Pennsylvania, Rowe believes it’s something everyone should care about.
“I think people really need to open their eyes no matter where they are to what’s going on,” said Rowe. “It’s not a political issue. It’s a humanitarian issue.”
‘Who is next?’
Maria Reyes, of Hazleton, spoke about her reasons for attending.
“This is not about immigrants or Mexicans or Americans, this is about families,” said Reyes. “How insane is your mind to want to keep families apart for no reason?”
Reyes held up a sign that read: “First, he came for Mexicans. Then, he came for Muslims, Women, Disabled Reporters, Gold Star Families, Trans Troops, NFL Players, Africa. Then, he put children in internment camps. Next, you.”
“Obviously, he wants to clean out this country in his way, but who is next?” asked Reyes. “It could be me, it could be you, it could be his own family because we are not safe.”
Shanti Westley, of Kingston, proudly held a sign that said: “I can’t believe I have to say this, but don’t cage kids!”
“The soul of our country is at stake,” said Westley. “It’s so basic but profound. If I’m not here and I’m somewhere else, then I’m just as complicit.”
Kay Strickland, of the Back Mountain area, refuses “to stand by while the soul of my country is being challenged like this.”
“I believe everyone’s existence needs to be respected, but I don’t believe this Administration or this policy is respecting existence and the right to be treated as human beings,” said Strickland.