YAKIMA, Wash. -- According to the Department of Homeland Security, around 2,000 children have been separated from their parents at the border, since April, under President Trump’s immigration enforcement policy.
Liz Hallock, a local attorney and human rights advocate says this policy is hurting children. She’s trying to encourage people here in Yakima to speak out.
“We can’t punish these children because their parents are trying to find a better way of life. This is way beyond international norms. Every refugee crisis I have experienced and volunteered with as a humanitarian aid worker, this is not how we treat people. We keep the parents and the family together,” said Hallock.
But, this policy isn’t completely new. The government doesn’t jail children, but it’s now detaining parents, it used to let out with a court date – a policy called “catch and release.” So, with parents in custody, Health and Human Services is housing children in shelters, until relatives come forward.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the federal government is enforcing the law and doing this will help save children’s lives.
“We do not want to separate children from their parents. We do not want adults to bring children into this country illegally either, placing those children at risk,” said Sessions.
Yakima is a diverse community with a heavy Hispanic presence. This issue has hit close to home for many living here.
Jose Garcia came to the U.S. from Guadalajara when he was 12.
“First of all, it was scary. It was scary seeing people chase you and people point guns at you, for no reason, saying you’re a criminal, and going through all that stuff,” said Garcia.
But, he says he wasn’t separated from his parents, and is critical of what’s happening now.
“That’s just inhumane. Nobody should have to go through something like that,” he said.
Some people disagree. On the KIMA Facebook page, viewers left comments on the matter. Dan Arnold says, “You’re doing a good job Trump, keep it up,” and Belle Summers posted, “Separation happens when you break a law, U.S. citizen or not. Prison and jail are consequences in order to live in a safe and civilized society. I would love to see a story on families who sacrifice to uphold our laws by sending their members into combat in order for us to be safe and live prosperously.”
Action News reached out to ICE who said they didn’t have anyone available for comment. But, Hallock agrees with Garcia. She says the Trump administration has taken their "zero tolerance policy" too far.
“The problem with this program, is the children are being held, indefinitely, with no end in sight, no plans, under the "zero-tolerance policy", to return the children to their parents. This is the kind of thing that happened to refugees during World War II. This is intolerable,” said Hallock.
She says now is the time for the Yakima community to take action.