Mayors Meet at the Border to Protest Separation of Immigrant Families

by | June 22, 2018 AT 11:00 AM

By Lauren Caruba

A delegation of mayors from across the country converged Thursday morning on the border, where they called for the reunification of families who had been separated at the border and comprehensive immigration reform.

The bipartisan group, which included mayors from El Paso, Austin, New York City, Los Angeles and Miami, said the executive order President Donald Trump signed Wednesday failed to address many questions surrounding his administration's "zero-tolerance" policy for illegal border crossings and the subsequent separation of thousands of migrant families.

While the Trump administration has touted the order as a solution to the border crisis that has consumed the national conversation over the past several weeks, the mayors said it remains unclear if or when the families that have already been separated might be reunited.

Steve Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which organized the trip, called the ongoing situation a moral and humanitarian emergency.

"It is clear from yesterday's executive order that the president heard the outcry that has spread throughout this country to this administration's cruel and inhumane policy of separating young children from their parents," Benjamin said. "While this executive order is a step in the right direction, it is a small one which raises as many questions as it does answers."

Trump has ordered the Defense Department to provide facilities to house migrant families while their cases are pending but provided for no guarantee that families would not be separated, nor a strategy for how previously separated families would be brought back together. It also seeks to modify a settlement limiting the detention of children to 20 days, indicating plans for indefinite detention of the families.

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo called his city and the surrounding area where Texas, New Mexico and Mexico converge the "poster child for immigration and bicultural relations." He said the country's immigration policies as a whole, including visas and protections for young immigrants who were illegally brought to America as children, need to be reformed.

"They need to get their act together," Margo said of political leaders in Washington.

Tornillo, a rural farming town southeast of El Paso, has become a flashpoint in the broader immigration crisis, ever since an emergency shelter was constructed at the port of entry to house hundreds of migrant children.

Few people have been given access to the "tent city," which is housing teenage boys who could be seen playing soccer outside on a patch of grass late Thursday morning. Benjamin said the delegation submitted a request to tour the facility and view its conditions, only to be told they needed to submit an application, which could take several weeks to process.

A small group attempted to gain access but were stopped at the gate.

Several mayors, including Bill de Blasio of New York City and Steve Adler of Austin, said problems with immigration policies still exist, including the fact that zero tolerance is still intact and children remain detained.

"They should be with their families," Adler said. "Children do not belong in cages. They do not belong in cages with our without their families."

Later in the day, several hundred people gathered at San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso for a march in support of reunifying families. The march, which drew many families with young children, was organized by Families for Families, a group of mothers.

Xochitl Nicholson, an organizer, told the crowd before they marched to the county jail that they still needed to be concerned about the children who were still separated from their families.

"We are vowed as mothers to not stop speaking until these children are with their families," she told the crowd, to cheers.

Holding up heart-shaped signs, the crowd walked to the county detention center, where they paused for chants and singing.

"Familias para familias," they chanted, while passing cars honked in encouragement.

(c)2018 the San Antonio Express-News