Blumenthal: End ‘inhumane, immoral’ border policy on children
NEW HAVEN — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal Monday called on the Trump administration to stop the “inhumane, immoral” policy of separating children from their parents at the border as they seek asylum, a decision that has spread fear among undocumented immigrants here.
Blumenthal said President Donald Trump is falsely claiming that current law requires this separation under the administration’s “zero tolerance” order.
“There is no law that requires it. It has never been the policy of past administrations, whether Republican or Democrat, to rip children away from their families and there never has been the policy of past administrations to prosecute criminally every asylum seeker coming across the border,” Blumenthal said.
He spoke at press a conference held at Junta for Progressive Action in the Fair Haven neighborhood.
He said Trump could end this policy simply by making a phone call to the head of the Homeland Security Administration.
“It is a policy that betrays American values. It is not who we are,” the senator said of the separation, where nearly 2,000 children have been taken from their parents over a six-week period this spring, according to the administration.
The senator, who plans to visit the border in early July, said the separations took place “under conditions that are prison-like.” He said they have occurred “without any prospect” of the families being reunited.
“The children have been used as pawns ... in this high-stakes battle for a repressive immigration law,” he said, referring to legislation that is under consideration this week in the House, which the Connecticut delegation opposes.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has continued to vigorously defend the policy.
“If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them,” Sessions said earlier this month, according to the Washington Post. “We’ve got to get this message out. You’re not given immunity.”
Paola Serrecchia, director of advocacy at Junta, said the impact of what is happening at the border is being felt in New Haven.
She said they have a client who does not want to deliver her baby in the hospital for fear she will be separated from the newborn by immigration officials.
Serrecchia said she recently got a call from grandparents who have not heard from an adult daughter and their grandchildren who had planned to seek asylum.
Maria Guallan, 43, of Ecuador who is undergoing chemotherapy for stage four cervical cancer, pleaded with Blumenthal to help her.
An undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who has lived in Connecticut for 11 years, Guallan said she was dependent on her 19-year-old son to take her to appointments at the Bellevue Hospital Clinic in New York.
She said he also helped her with her U.S. citizen daughter, Jaslim Marcela Cela Guallan, who will turn 3 in September.
She said her son, who came here when he was 14, was deported to Ecuador three months ago. Guallan claims her son was mistakenly deported, rather than her estranged husband.
“He helped me with so much,”Guallan said, as she broke down. She said she worries that he is alone in Ecuador. Guallan lives in Waterbury.
“I have a little girl. I need someone to take care of her,” Maria Guallan said, as she cried. “I am begging you to help me. Please.”
She said in January she contacted a lawyer whom she paid $3,500, but Guallan said he did nothing for her.
Serrecchia said Guallan is worried about being separated from her daughter.
She said there is concern that this new policy will be enforced beyond the border area.. “There is real fear,” Serrecchia said.
Celina Fernandez, a case manager at Junta, translated for Guallan.
Blumenthal was asked to respond to Kirstjen Nielsen, the head of Homeland Security, who said there is no policy of separation.
“Well it is midnight — look out the window. Is it midnight?,” Blumenthal sarcastically said at the press conference held at 9 a.m. Monday. “That’s a lie. The policy is plain for everyone to see and in effect the president has boasted that ... There is no factual justification for saying the policy is the same ...(as it was under previous administrations).”
Blumenthal and other Democrats have proposed a bill that would require that families be kept together unless there is specific evidence that a child is being trafficked or abused. He said he hopes Republicans will join them.
The Keep Families Together Act also prohibits using family separation as a means of deterring migration or complying with civil law. It favors family unity, as well as keeping sibling groups together.
If a family were broken up, it requires that the Department of Health and Human Services provide guardians with a weekly status report on the child and allow weekly phone calls.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., plans to visit the border with Mexico on Thursday.
Judith Alperin, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, told Blumenthal that it supports his efforts. She said the separation of families is not only “contrary to American values, it offends core teachings in the Jewish tradition of welcoming the stranger and caring for the most vulnerable.”
Blumenthal joins a chorus of critics across the country who have protested the policy, including supporters of the president.
He said this policy inflicts trauma on children that can be “life-changing.” Blumenthal said the time for Republicans to step forward is now.
“We are at a moment of reckoning and they must show the backbone and moral compass” to change it, he said.
He said it is reminiscent of dark moments in American history, such as when Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II.
Yenimar Cortes, a student at Eastern Connecticut State University, later approached the senator and asked that lawmakers not attach “anti-immigrant” amendments to its bill to get it passed.
Alicia Caraballo, the interim executive director at Junta, said the organization serves some 450 families with direct services, while also doing advocacy work.