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Tucson activists denounce separation of migrant families at border

Free the Children Coalition, a new group targeting immigration issues, on Tuesday called the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant families at the border an attack on children that exposes them to illness and trauma.

“I thought we reached our lowest. I really did,” Isabel Garcia, co-chair of the Coalitión de Derechos Humanos, a group promoting migrant rights, said at a news conference. “Now, this is our lowest. Attacking our children. How low can we go?”

A pediatrician, a pastor, legal experts and such local activist groups as the Poor People’s Campaign, an organization committed to fighting poverty and inequality, and Coalicion de Derechos Humanos joined Free the Children to protest the Justice Department’s criminalization of immigrants.

“We know from many studies about the irreparable harm caused by breaking up families,” Dr. Eve Shapiro said. “Children are susceptible to learning difficulties, depression and chronic conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and even heart disease.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, with about 66,000 members, says in a March 1 letter to the Department of Homeland Security that separating immigrant children from their families is “inhumane and counterproductive” as a deterrent to immigration.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has placed a string of tough, controversial measures on immigration, with his latest move on Monday saying the U.S. would limit asylum claims by victims of gang violence and domestic abuse.

“Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems, even all serious problems, that people face every day all over the world,” Sessions said. “We have not acted hastily but carefully. In my judgment, this will be a correct interpretation of the law.”

The Trump administration has pledged a policy of “100 percent prosecution” of detained illegal immigrants, in what Sessions said was an effort to end the “lawlessness” in the current immigration system.

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“It is a setback to our standing as a country in the field of international law” and the women’s movements, said Alba Jaramillo, director of the YWCA Latina Leadership Institute.

Free the Children also denounced reports that children are missing or unaccounted for within the federal system, which surfaced in news reports but reaches as far back as the Obama administration.

Some speakers at the news conference were emotional, tearing up, their voices shaking as they shared their stories.

“It is quite literally, perhaps, the closest thing that our civil legal system can get to the death penalty – permanently separating a parent from his or her child,” said Billy Peard, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Arizona.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Rebecca Spiess/Cronkite News

Isabel Garcia, co-chair of Coalition Derechos Humanos, gave an emotional speech during the June 12 press conference of the Free the Children Coalition.