W. Side lawmakers blast federal immigration policy

Rep. Davis, Chuy Garcia among those who urged reunification

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By CONNOR S. CARYNSKI

AustinTalks

Joined by community leaders, other elected officials, childcare advocates and medical professionals, Congressman Danny Davis (7th) called for a stop to President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy of separating migrant children from parents coming to America.

The June 25 press conference, held at Loretto Hospital, took place less than a week after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 allowing children to remain with their families while their guardians are prosecuted for illegal entry.

During the press conference, Davis and other local lawmakers, including state Rep. Camille Lilly (78th), Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer (2nd), addressed the threats to children who have already been separated and criticized the administration's lack of urgency in reuniting families.

"We have a number of experts, individuals who have studied the impact of trauma on separated children from parents," Davis said. "So we are not just talking about a notion, we're not talking about a possibility, we're not talking about what might happen if this takes place, we're talking about evidence based on understanding." 

Dr. John Walkup, chairman of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry department at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, said separating children from their guardians can have a broad and long-term effect.

"I want to emphasize how important it is for the physiological and physical well-being of children that they stay connected to a loving caregiver," Walkup said. "That loving care-giver can be a parent, it can be an aunt or an uncle, it can be a grandpa or grandma. But that connection is so essential to their long-term growth and development that in the field there is no question about the value and importance of that."

Tracy Peterson, chief external affairs officer at the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center, agreed, saying his time with the center has made clear that children who are separated from their parents experience overwhelming fear, anxiety, loss of attachment and trauma.

"Any law or policy that allows for the unjust removal of children from their parents is child abuse and is a violation of basic human rights," Peterson said.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia called the president's decision to separate children despicable and warned the impact of the decision will be long-lasting for the country as whole.

"The actions taken by this president is a dangerous precedent because racist policy makers in the administration, whose history speaks loudly for itself, are finally able to implement their goal of expanding the criminalization and mass incarceration of people of color," Garcia said.

Referencing Heartland Alliance locations in Chicago's South and West sides, which are serving as temporary homes for separated children, Davis said he is taking steps to prevent future separation policies and to unite children in Chicago and throughout the nation with their families.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) questioned how the United States could be so cold and callous to the dozens of young people being housed in Chicago. According to Dowell, 33, children ranging in age from 7 month to 17 years old, are staying at a facility in Bronzeville.

"I was thinking about what I would feel like, as a mother, to have my 7-month-old son ripped from my arms and moved to someplace I don't even know where," Dowell said.

James McIntrye, president of Foster Care Alumni of America's Illinois Chapter, said his group is working to draft laws that would provide rights for immigrants — a bill of rights for unaccompanied minors that would ensure due process and their legal right to counsel that is funded by that state.

Current immigration laws do not specify that immigrants are entitled to state-funded counsel. McIntyre added that his group is also calling on the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to meet with independent investigators and determine whether children were neglected or abused while being held.

"Reunification is the only process that we have now," McIntyre said.

CONTACT: austintalks.org@gmail.com 

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