HOMESTEAD | Holding a poster that read, “Families deserve to stay together,” Lucia Quiej, an immigrant from Guatemala, walked a mile and a half under a scorching sun with her five children. They headed toward the Homestead detention center for unaccompanied minors to protest the separation of families who are arriving at the US-Mexico border asking for asylum.
“I don’t think it’s right that they are keeping children in cages like animals. They need their mothers and fathers,” Quiej said.
Five years ago, her husband was deported to his native Guatemala and she remained alone with her children.
“It isn’t easy when you are missing the head of the family,” she said. Despite that, she would not return to her home country because “there is no justice there.”
She noted that the children in the Homestead detention center “come in search of freedom because over there (in their home countries) they endure violence, sexual abuse, gangs, and extortion. That is why I left my home, because I have lived that.”
“We are all human beings and we have the right to equality,” Quiej said.
Under the same motto, hundreds of adults, youths and children marched June 23, with posters in hand asking that families not be separated and that the government reunite the more than 2,000 children who were separated with their parents.
“These immigrants are being abused. The ones who are seeking asylum are having their children taken away and that is something we should not be doing as a country founded by immigrants,” said Marcela Iraola, who traveled from Tampa to participate in the march.
Almost 100 percent of the U.S. population consists of immigrants, said Eduardo de Aragon, a protestor who came on his own but is also a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. “There are no Native Americans here. We all came from somewhere else and we should all be here protecting these children,” he said.
He added that President Donald Trump’s administration “is abusing the vulnerability of children.”
“We cannot permit these children to be kept apart from their families and even less in a place as symbolic as Homestead, where many families work and contribute to the local economy,” said Rosana Araujo of Women Working Together, a non-governmental organization that strives to educate domestic workers about their rights.
“They need to close these detention centers for minors and we need to create laws that permit people to come to the United States in search of a better life,” said Cristopher Garcia Wilde, 22, a medical student at the University of Miami.
Garcia Wilde was born in the U.S. to Venezuelan parents. “I know of people that have come here and the government has caused them traumas. They need to end this,” he added.
The march, organized by several pro-immigrant organizations, started at a nearby Walmart and continued to the reception center for undocumented minors in Homestead, where more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors who entered the country illegally are being housed. Among them are around 100 minors who were separated from their families at the border since the Trump administration began its zero-tolerance policy in April. Until then, families remained together, but were released from detention centers after 20 days.
“With Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy, parents are separated from their children and deported back to their native countries, while their children remain here and are sent to different shelters,” said Julio Calderon, a member of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
With the executive order that the president signed June 20, “families will remain together, but incarcerated. No one deserves to be incarcerated and away from their family. Everyone deserves to be free and with their family,” Calderon told the protestors.
The announcement of the march evoked an immediate response. Word spread to people throughout the state, and even reached public officials. “People are tired and they want to see change,” said Calderon.
Upon arriving at the center, several protestors placed stuffed animals for the children at the entrance to the center. Several young adult community leaders shared their stories as undocumented immigrants, or dreamers.
“Youths and young adult immigrants who came here just like these detained children have taken the leadership role here,” said Ricardo Campos, the Florida branch director of United We Dream, which organized the march.
“It’s a surprise and also a joy that so many people are trying to change what’s happening in this country,” said Maria Bilbao, also of United We Dream.
“At least we managed to make some noise. Honestly, we weren’t expecting so many people,” said Silvia Muñoz, social action director for the Pedro Arrupe Jesuit Institute in Miami.
What organizers hope for now is for people to go out and vote to elect representatives who will not criminalize immigrants for political or economic interests. They also hope to close all immigrant detentions centers, and invest those funds in education and public health.
Patricia Stockton of the Teresian Institute in Miami said, “It appears that there is great commitment, enthusiasm and desire to truly make a great difference in the reality that we are living in this country today.”