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Northam Leads Governors in Action Vs. Family Separations

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam took a lead nationally Tuesday in ordering the recall of four Virginia National Guard soldiers and one helicopter from the U.S. southwestern border in response to the Trump administration’s enforcement of a “zero tolerance” policy that separates immigrant children from their families.

Maryland’s Republican governor Larry Hogan followed suit, along with at least one more Republican governor and a handful of other Democrats besides Northam.

Strong statements denouncing the policy have come from both Virginia U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and from U.S. Rep. Donald S. Beyer, Jr., who represents the 8th District of Virginia that includes the City of Falls Church. Kaine’s came in the form of an op-ed in Wednesday’s USA Today and Beyer’s statement came following a dramatic visit he made Tuesday with a Maryland colleague to an immigration detention facility in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County where the family separation policy is in effect.

While President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday reversing his stand on the policy, in Virginia, GOP U.S. Senate nominee Corey Stewart resolutely defended the family separation policy in television interviews.

Meanwhile, public protests are being organized in 132 cities across the U.S. on Saturday, June 30.

In Northam’s swift action on the policy, he stated, “Virginia benefits from the important work of securing our border and we have a responsibility to contribute to that mission. However, we also have a responsibility to stand up to policies or actions that run afoul of the values that define us as Americans. Today I spoke with the Adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard and ordered him to withdraw four soldiers and one helicopter from Arizona until the federal government ends its enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy that separates children from their parents.

“When Virginia deployed these resources to the border, we expected that they would play a role in preventing criminals, drug runners and other threats to our security from crossing into the United States—not supporting a policy of arresting families and separating children from their parents.

“Let me be clear—we are ready to return and contribute to the real work of keeping our nation safe. But as long as the Trump administration continues to enforce this inhumane policy, Virginia will not devote any resource to border enforcement actions that could actively or tacitly support it. I urge President Trump and leaders in Washington to turn away from this zero-tolerance policy and come to the table on the real immigration reform this nation needs.”

Beyer, reporting on his visit to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility Tuesday, said he and Rep. C.A. Ruppersberger (D-Md.), met two fathers, Carlos and Mario, who had been separated from their young children for months without being able to speak to them.
Beyer said:

“Today I went to an ICE-affiliated detention facility to get a sense of what was happening with Donald Trump’s family separation policy at the border. I spoke with Carlos and Mario, who were separated from their children, a seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl, earlier this year. What they told me was sickening.

“Carlos fled gang violence in Honduras with his seven-year-old son by train, and surrendered himself at the border in El Paso to CBP in March. Carlos told us he was imprisoned for two days with his legs chained together but still in custody of his son. Then he was separated from his son and transferred to Maryland. He was only able to connect with his son after months without speaking to him because his son had memorized a number for a family member back in Honduras. That family member was able to connect with a family friend in the States who was then finally able to connect them.

“Mario is also from Honduras. His sister was a victim of domestic violence committed by a local government official. He said that when they attempted to press charges through the legal system, Mario was attacked and beaten up by a gang of four or five men. They fled for their lives, taking buses from Honduras through Mexico with Mario’s five-year-old daughter. They crossed the border and surrendered to CBP, which placed them together in an ‘ICE box’ for three days. Mario said his sister has since been granted asylum. After three days at the ICE facility, Mario said an officer approached him and told him to give up his daughter, or she would be taken away. He said his five-year-old girl was dragged away from him crying and screaming, which was the last time he saw her. He was unable to talk to her for months. He was finally able to make contact with her last week, but he still does not know where she is being held.

“Both of these young fathers were in tears throughout our conversation, and remain deeply worried about their children. They both also told us that they have not had access to legal counsel.

“There isn’t a law requiring Trump to do this, previous presidents did not have zero tolerance policies that led to this kind of family separation. They did not punish asylum-seekers at the border like Trump and Sessions are doing, intentionally. Family separation is wrong, it is a moral outrage, and I will be working with my colleagues in Congress to stop it. We should have zero tolerance for destroying families.”

Beyer previously attempted to eliminate funding for the Trump family separation policy with an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was blocked by Republican leadership on the Rules Committee. He also joined over 100 Representatives on a formal appropriations request led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) to remove funding for the program. He is an original co-sponsor of the Keep Families Together Act, which would end the policy.

In his op-ed, Kaine stated, “I know these kids and the communities they come from. I worked in Honduras as a missionary from 1980 to 1981, and I returned in 2015 to the town where I used to live. I’ve visited the neighborhoods where gangs recruit 10-year-olds and heard the anguish of parents who love their homes but fear their children will become the next casualties of a drug war. Their children’s lives are worth the dangerous trek to the U.S. They dream of a home not besieged by crossfire. And then they end up in cages.”