York organizations hold vigil for immigrant children separated from families

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Members from Indivisible York, a local organization advocating for political reform, hold signs in front of the York County Prison Immigration Facility.

Two local organizations sponsored a vigil honoring immigrant children separated from their families at noon Saturday, June 2, in front of the York County Prison's Immigration Facility.

CASA, a regional organization advocating for Latino and immigrant rights with an office in York City, and Indivisible York, a local organization promoting political activism, brought signs and passionate voices together to address a specific issue.

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A recent New York Times article revealed that since October, about 700 immigrant children have been taken home by an individual falsely claiming to be their parent. Many of these cases are believed to be child-trafficking efforts.

Recently, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a "zero tolerance policy" for immigrant families, stating that if a family were to cross the U.S. border illegally, the parents would be arrested and the children would be taken away.

At noon Saturday, those with loved ones affected by such policies voiced their anger.

The vigil came a day after the ACLU held a rally on Friday, June 1, at the same location titled "The Families Belong Together." 

More:CASA to hold vigil in support of immigrant children and families

On Saturday, more than 40 local immigrants and activists stood in front of the prison before being told to move across the parking lot by a farm house. 

Still, the group held a clear view of the prison, which houses one of the state's largest immigrant detention facilities. There are more than 700 immigrants detained there.

"This is a hard place for us," said Laila Martin, lead organizer for York's CASA branch. "Many of us know people people in there right now or know people that have been here. This is very scary for us."

Members from York's CASA branch, an organization advocating for Latino and immigrant rights, hold a sign during a vigil for immigrant children separated from their families by the York County Prison Immigration Facility.

Martin said the immigration facility is "the materialization of what (President Donald) Trump and (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) are doing" and a part of the administration's "racist agenda."

"What is happening at the border could've been me," said Mirna Gonzalez, leader of CASA's York branch. "I can't imagine the trauma these kids are going through. Children need their parents to survive. The children separated don't have a voice anymore but we do."

Gonzalez then referenced Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, a Guatemalan woman shot and killed at the U.S. border while trying to make her way into the country with a group of immigrants last week.

Gonzalez said she represents those who have lost their lives at the border, such as Claudia, and she could have suffered from the same fate when she arrived here from El Salvador 30 years ago.

"That could've been me," she said. "I'm Mirna, but my name is Claudia."

As a result, Martin said, action must be taken.

"Immigration reform is what this country needs right now," she said. "In November, we need to put in place people who feel like we feel right here, right now."

Center stage was then given to Arlette Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant living in York City, who knows the immigration process better than most. She came to the U.S. at 2 years old and is referred to as a "Dreamer."

Arlette Gonzalez, a York City resident who immigrated from Mexico with her family at 2 years old, spoke to a crowd by the York County Prison Immigration Facility during a vigil for immigrant children separated from their families.

A "Dreamer" is someone who came to the U.S. without legal status as a child and has assimilated into American culture and received education within the nation's borders. The term comes from the 2001 Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which never was enacted into law.

"It's been difficult for me and other immigrants," she said. "We have to overcome obstacles, learn the language and learn the culture."

However, through her active role in CASA, she has seen progress.

"We're helping families who are being separated right now," she said. "People don't understand the pain that we have to go through. It breaks my heart to see it, especially now that children are missing."

Still, organizations such as CASA and Indivisible York continue to promote Latino rights in hopes of promoting legislation ensuring equality as U.S. citizens.

CASA's response to the likelihood of their success was displayed on the back of their crimson-red shirts: "Sí, se puede," or "Yes, it can be done."