Protesters expressed outrage over the Trump administration’s practice of systematically separating immigrant children from their families and detaining them in so-called “tender age facilities” at the U.S. border at a rally held at San Francisco’s Embarcadero Plaza on Saturday.
“Zero Tolerance for Trump’s bullshit,” read one of dozens of signs held in the air, referencing the border enforcement strategy. Other protesters used their signage to call on the White House to “end child abuse” and abolish the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Some attended the rally —which was organized by the Women’s March San Francisco and held in partnership with some 60 organizations — wearing emergency thermal blankets, which children held at some southern detention facilities have reportedly been provided with.
Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday seeking to end family separation, but it is unclear how the some 2,300 children in detention facilities will be reunited with their parents. However, the order directs Department of Homeland Security to continue to detain families while their criminal proceedings and asylum cases are adjudicated.
“[These children] and parents need to be immediately released, immediately reunited and immediately granted permanent legal residency,” said Lariza Dugan Cuadra, executive director of the Central American Resource Center of Northern California. “That is the only solution that will mitigate the suffering of these families. “
Teachers, doctors, nurses as well as City and state leaders participated in Saturday’s rally. State Assemblymember David Chiu requested the protesters to remain silent for 23 seconds to represent the 2,300 children that were “ripped from their families.”
“Words cannot describe what America is experiencing at this time,” Chiu said, likening the current family separation practice to slavery, “when government sanctioned the idea that an entire race of people were less than human beings,” and to the Holocaust.
“When a child is ripped from the arms of a mother or a father, she experiences increible trauma,” Chiu said. “Yet we have a government that sanctions exactly that.”
The negative health impacts from inhumane treatment can last a lifespan, said Dr. Heyman Oo, a pediatrician at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s Children’s Health Center.
“In practice, this policy terrorizes and traumatized children unnecessarily and holds them hostage,” Dr. Heyman Oo said, describing personal stories she’s heard from clients who have been impacted by immigration policies as “tragic.”
Dr. Oo described an 8-year-old patient who attempted to commit suicide after a “a brief but traumatic separation from her mother during their immigration journey.”
“It breaks my heart to look at the many thousands of children who are held by our government, apart from their families,” Dr. Oo said. “What will their lives look like after this? What harm have we done to their long term health?”
Former San Francisco Supervisor David Campos recounted crossing the U.S. border at age 11 — an experience that included detention at a U.S. immigration facility.
“As traumatic as it was for me, at least I had my dad in that cell. My little sisters were with my mom,” Campos said. “I cannot imagine what it’s like for a two year old, a one-year old, going through that experience alone.”
Mass protests on family separations are planned to take place across the country on June 30, including in San Francisco.