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Martin Sheen Gives Impassioned Speech At Malibu Topanga Families Belong Together Immigration Rally


Special To Topanga Journal

Saturday about 100 people were in Malibu joining forces with the nationwide Families Belong Together immigration rallies, organized by MoveOn.org, and locally by Reverend Paul Elder of the St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Malibu. There were handmade signs voicing support for the children locked in cages in the immigration child detention centers: “Monsters belong in cages not kids” and “I do care and you should too,” plus “America has zero tolerance for Trump” were a couple of the phrases on the signs.

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

Actor and activist Martin Sheen gave an impassioned plea for justice from the microphone. His words strongly resonated with the crowd.

 

“I am the son of immigrants, so I have a voice in this issue,” said Sheen. “A deeply personal voice. If this issue is not personal, it’s impersonal. If it’s impersonal, nobody cares. But your presence and your voice here this afternoon is going to make all the difference, because you have taken a personal interest in what’s being done in our name. We’re being called to lift up this nation and all it’s people to that place where the heart is without fear, and the head is held high. Where knowledge is free. Where the world has not been broken up into fragments. The narrow domestic walls where words come out from the depths of truth, and powerless striving stretches its arm towards perfection. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit. Where the mind is led forward by ever widening thought and action into that heaven of freedom. Dear father, let our country awake! Amen.”

Protestors across the nation came together fo this rally in more than 750 cities. On a map, this is what the national protest looked like.
Protestors across the nation came together for this rally in more than 750 cities. On a map, this is what the national protest looked like. Hundreds of thousands gathered together June 30, 2018 to protest Trump's Immigration Policies. | Map Credit: MoveOn.org

“If this issue is not personal, it’s impersonal. If it’s impersonal, nobody cares.” Martin Sheen

The crowd came to an arousing applause from his fiery words. Martin Sheen was born Ramón Gerard Antonio Estevez in Dayton Ohio to immigrant parents.

The crowd protested along the street at Webb Way and PCH. The protest started out alongside of the Malibu clinic at that corner. It grew to encompass all four corners at that intersection with people from Malibu, Topanga, Santa Monica and beyond.

Asking the protestors what they felt was the central problem with Trump and immigration the answers were varied, but each had a heated response.

“The biggest problem is we’re subject to the invasion of the baby snatchers,” said Eric Wald from the unincorporated area of Malibu. “Our tax dollars are being used to separate little kids from their mothers and their fathers. That’s terrible. This here is a very modest turnout. I’m thinking very seriously about leaving the country. I’m trying to figure out some way so that none of my tax dollars go to the federal government. In other words we’re in more trouble than we realize. Things are really bad. If you can take little babies away from their mothers, things are really bad. I’m seriously considering leaving. I’m pretty old, and I want to live the rest of my life in a democracy. The United States of America is no longer a Democracy. We’re ruled by a group of right wing extremists.”

“I understand Trump wants limits on immigration,” said Tamara Davis from Malibu. “I think that’s something we can all have a conversation about. But having a policy of zero tolerance where you take children away from their parents is not the solution to controlling immigration in our country.”

“It distresses me that everybody is making this out of fear, terror and prejudice, when it really is overpopulation. We’re just trying to find out way through it,” said Carolyn Sargent, a 48 year resident of Malibu.

Kim from Santa Monica had a simple but powerful answer as to what is the central problem to Trump and immigration in the US right now, “Lack of empathy.” For her the solution was, “more empathy.”

And empathy may be the keyword for the left on child detention centers, but for the right it is not. The keyword on the other side of the aisle is money. The Trump Administration is paying Southwest Key $458 million to run immigration child detention centers.

Juan Sanchez, the chief executive of the non-profit Southwest Key, was making a salary of $1.5 million while his organization raked in a $458 million federal grant to shelter detained children taken from their parents. Southwest Key has been awarded almost half of the $948 million budgeted for the care of unaccompanied immigrant children by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at detention centers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has previously reported alternatives to detention center programs have resulted in a 99.6 percent appearance rate for asylum seekers in court. These alternatives save tax payer money to the tune of $1.44 billion. Alternatives typically cost .70 cents to $17 a day compared to $298 a day for just one family detention bed.

The children are taken often in the darkness of the night while news media and the world are asleep. Leaks of these children being transported by US commercial airlines were anonymously posted on Facebook. The airline attendants posted they had seen thirty two “scared little souls” on a cross-country flight to a detention facility in the middle of the night. The children ranged in age from 11 to perhaps 6 years old, the flight attendant stated in the anonymous post. She said the sweet innocent children were dressed as criminals in black and gray cheap sweats suits. One little girl with streaming tears hugged the flight attendant, who hugged back. The adult escort scorned the flight attendant for hugging the frightened little child.

The child detention centers where Sanchez is detaining these children are in Texas, in old abandoned warehouses and an old Walmart store. Sanchez is not the only private organization running these child detonation centers. There are others, as well as companies and government agencies running the child dentation centers, all on behalf of HHS. Southwest Key has approximately a dozen detention centers in Texas, including the old Walmart store in Brownsville. That particular location has drawn the attention of members of Congress and news media. In all, Southwest Key runs 27 immigrant children detention centers in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New York, Wisconsin and California.

Trump and his attorney general Jeff Sessions enacted a policy of “zero tolerance” for those who crossed the border between ports of entry. Asylum seekers who went between ports of entry did so as a result of being turned away at the port of entry by Trump’s policy to disallow asylum seekers period. Asylum seekers are those fleeing extreme violence. When they crossed the border, Trump orders that they be accused of a federal offense and their children be taken away. These children were then placed in a Southwest Key immigrant child detention center, including Casa Padre, the converted WalMart store in Brownsville, Texas that currently holds at a minimum 1,500 children.

At a recent meeting of the Progressive Democrats of Santa Monica, a proposed resolution by Superdelegate Susie Shannon was endorsed. The resolution described the horror the ACLU saw and heard and made a written record of from activity at detention centers on our Southern border. Susie Shannon also heard the cries of the children at a San Diego immigrant child detention center.

The ACLU describes in its report, and Shanon reiterates in her resolution, “pervasive physical, sexual and emotional abuse of migrant children by Homeland Security and ICE agents, including, but not limited to, teenagers run over by border protection officials and subsequently beaten; a young girl who was forced to spread her legs and was molested by federal agents, a pregnant teen whose cry for medical attention was ignored which resulted in a stillborn birth; multiple children threatened with rape and death; children forced to sleep in holding pens on concrete floors; all of which has led to an overwhelming atmosphere of fear, isolation, medical emergencies and death at our Southern border.”

Marco Antonio Munoz, a Honduran father, committed suicide after being separated from his wife and child, said Amrit Cheng, Communications Strategist for the ACLU.

“Three siblings were told they couldn’t hug each other in an immigrant child detention center,” said Cheng. “Parents deported four months ago are still waiting for the return of their baby.”

All of this begs the question, is there a law that requires family separation? Trump has wrongly blamed Democrats for separately families at the border.

June 15, Trump told reporters, “I hate the children being taken away,” and added, “The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.”

Secretary Nielsen repeated this falsehood at a briefing on June 18 saying, “Surely it is the beginning of the unraveling of democracy when the body who makes the laws, instead of changing them, tells the enforcement body not to enforce the law.”

The answer is no, there is no law that requires separating families.

“This crisis stems from a series of policy choices the Trump Administration made,” said Cheng. “In fact, reports arose as early as December 2017 that the administration was considering a plan to separate border-crossing parents from their children. In March, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly confirmed this saying it would help deter Central Americans from coming to the United States.”

Neither do the courts require separating families, despite the claims from the GOP leadership.

“Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Chuck Grassley have blamed family separation on the courts, specifically a decades-old court agreement known as the Flores settlement which established protections for children to prevent their indefinite detention in unlicensed facilities,” said Cheng. “Getting rid of the protections in the 1997 Flores settlement would only further the administration’s goal of being able to indefinitely imprison families. But ending family separation doesn’t require family prisons. The Trump Administration knows full well that alternatives exist — because it went out of its way to sabotage them.”

According to the ACLU, in June 2017 the Trump Administration ended the Family Case Management Program, which was what allowed families to be placed into a program together.

The 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement (Flores) was the result of over a decade of litigation. It addressed the US detention policy of children. Flores set the national standard on the detention, release and treatment of all immigrant children held in detention. It was about family unity and requires:

Juveniles be released from custody without unnecessary delay, and in order of preference to the following: a parent, legal guardian, adult relative, individual specifically designated by the parent, a child welfare licensed program, or, alternatively when family reunification is not possible, an adult seeking custody deemed appropriate by the responsible government agency.
Where they cannot be released because of significant public safety or flight risk concerns, juveniles must be held in the least restrictive setting appropriate to age and special needs, generally, in a nonsecure facility licensed by a child welfare entity and separated from unrelated adults and delinquent offenders.

According to Sarah Rodriguez, an ICE spokesperson, the Family Case Management Program caters to “special populations, such as pregnant women, nursing mothers and families with very young children.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) as of June 29 put forth draft regulations that would bar many refugees who are being persecuted and fleeing extreme violence, including those who entered the US between ports, from protection in this country. Such regulations violate both US law and international conventions, of which the US is a signatory. The sweeping regulations appear to be targeted at South Americans. Attorney General Jeff Sessions drafted the plan that would totally overhaul the asylum seeker policy.

Under his draft regulations people who enter the US between ports of entry would be prosecuted for illegal entry. Those who have gone through more than one country to get here would be barred from asylum seeking— this is very common for asylum seekers to travel through more than one country to arrive here. It specifically mentions Central Americans making it extremely difficult for them to qualify for asylum. Sessions codifies in his own words an opinion that restricts asylum victims of domestic and gang violence. Sessions draft regulations redefines a “particular social group” to exclude from protection refugees whose claims have not previously been challenged by this or any other administration in the last 25 years; require asylum seekers, many of whom lack any form of legal assistance, to provide an exact definition of any “particular social group” on which they are basing their claims or face denial with no possibility of appeal. The draft regulations also greatly expands the range of criminal convictions that would result in denial of asylum to include traffic offenses.

These draft regulations will go through a process of review then be open to a period of public notice and comment.

Sessions now has hundreds of fellow Methodist church members who signed a letter claiming his “zero tolerance” immigration policy has harmed “thousands of vulnerable children,” and this resulted in Church charges, including child abuse, being brought against Sessions. Under United Methodist Church (UMC) rules, any member can bring a complaint against any other member based on their conduct, or an alleged violation of the Church’s Book of Discipline. Typically efforts are made to de-escalate the situation. On occasion the charges are brought before the UMC’s Judicial Council. Usually these formal charges are lobbed against a pastor. It is unusual for a lay person to rise to the level of formal charges that go before the Council, in the history of the Church.

ON THE WEB:

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