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Rally highlights what immigration order didn't fix
Locals gather downtown for Boro's Families Belong Together march Saturday
Statesboro's Families Belong Together march
With megaphone, Families Belong Together emcee Elisabeth Malloy leads the protest marchers off the Bulloch County Annex lawn accompanied by her brother, Samuel Malloy, 9, who read a poem during the rally. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

A June 20 executive order from President Donald Trump halting the separation of children from their would-be immigrant parents at the border did not reunite families already separated. Nor did it fix a broken immigration system or spiteful attitudes toward immigrants.

Those messages were voiced by participants in Statesboro's local Families Belong Together march and rally. More than 700 of these rallies were held Saturday across the nation, The Associated Press reported. Some, such as those in Washington, D.C., and New York, were obviously a lot bigger.

Here, participants first gathered outside the Bulloch County Annex on North Main Street, part of U.S. Highway 301, to learn the chants.

"No more excuses for human rights abuses!" they shouted in unison, several times as they started marching. "Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here!" was next.

"Our world, our nation, was built on immigration!" was the third chanted message. "No hate, no wall, America's home to all!" followed.

Turning the corner from North Main to East Main, the marchers continued on the wide brick walk and circled the courthouse, where trees provided shade from the broiling sun. Nearly 100 people attended the rally.

"Through our collective shouts and screams, our president and his administration first denied any part in this unbelievably tragic humanitarian crisis, assigned the blame to those it didn't belong and a couple of days later issued an executive order halting the further separation of families coming to our border," said emcee Elisabeth Malloy.

'ICE boxes'

She described Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facilities, nicknamed "ICE boxes" in which children have been kept in cages. Photographs showing children and adults in cage-like structures drew world attention to the situation when published by media organizations in May and June.

"This administration thought that just the fact that he signed his name to an arbitrary document would quell our fears and disgust, but the fact is, ICE has no plans either from within or above to reunite these families, and the stark reality is that these so-called reunification centers are simply prisons with a fancier, feel-good name," said Malloy, a Georgia Southern University student now in her junior year.

The Rev. Jane Altman Page, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro, gave an invocation in which she quoted verses from Jewish and Christian Scripture and noted other traditions that call for welcoming strangers as neighbors.

"May we open our eyes so that we can see the divine in each other, especially those who have struggled to come to this land from places of desolation and fear," Page said. "May our ears be open to the cries of children and know that we can never turn away from the torturous practices of children being separated from their parents, rounded up in raids, led to detention centers, military bases, tent cities, silently giving up their dreams.

"May our hearts be open to follow the teachings of many of our faith traditions," she continued.

The passage Page quoted as from the Jewish tradition was Leviticus 19:33-34, "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong, you shall treat him as a neighbor, and you shall love him as yourself."

Son of immigrants

Eduardo Delgado, 19, spoke of life in an immigrant family from personal experience. He is now a sophomore at Georgia Southern, where he is president of the Young Democrats and vice president of the Political Science Club.

"Firstly, I am the son of immigrants," Delgado said at the microphone. "I've lived my life with this fear and this struggle, the fear that at any moment my mother and my father could be taken away from me and my siblings. My parents are the hardest working people I've ever met, taking jobs that natural-born citizens do not take. My parents have invested in this economy and they've invested in this country not only financially but morally and ethically."

Because he was born in the United States, he is a citizen. His parents left Mexico as teenagers with their parents' families. They have been together in the United States for 21 years.

"They are Mexican-born, but at heart they are Americans," he told the rally group. "They celebrate the Fourth of July like many of you, and they deserve to have the rights guaranteed to Americans just as our neighbors. I love my parents just as they love this country, the country that has provided them with the opportunity to live without having to worry about cartels or corrupt police."

Delgado had carried a sign with the Spanish-language rallying cry, "Si se puede" in the march. Translating this as "Yes, it can be done," he closed his remarks with a call-and-response.

"Can the immigration system be fixed?" he asked. "Si se puede!" the crowd responded.

"Can we allow families to come here to escape violence and corruption?" "Si se puede!" 

"And can we unify families?" "Si se puede!" 

Policy shift

Trump's order stopping new family separations applies to children whose parents are detained for entering the United States illegally. Family separations also occurred under previous administrations, but spiked after Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April announced a zero-tolerance policy for illegal border crossings. A June 26 Associated Press story stated that more than 2,300 migrant families had been separated by the time Trump's order was issued.

This spring, Sessions and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said in speeches and media interviews that family separation would be a deterrent to illegal immigration.

However, President Trump said the practice was forced on his administration by a court order that prohibited children from being detained along with their parents and by a lack of congressional action to fix this. Before issuing the executive order, the Republican president used his Twitter account to blame Democrats and a "horrible law" for the situation, but Democrats did not initiate the zero-tolerance policy or the longstanding court order.

The Bulloch County Democratic Party and the activist organization Indivisible sponsored the local march and rally. Participants filled out postcards to send to members of Congress, and volunteers staffed a voter registration table.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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