More than just keeping families together, local leaders call on the community to unite against oppression

Thousands of people descended on the streets of downtown Long Beach Saturday morning as part of a nationwide movement calling on the immediate reunification of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who spoke at the Families Belong Together rally and march that began at Cesar Chavez Park, shared his experience when visiting the border with 26 other members of Congress after the Trump Administration enacted its zero tolerance immigration policy.

“We saw institutionalized child abuse, we saw children that were kept in cages, we sat with parents who cried,” Lowenthal said. “Do you know what it’s like to lose your child and to walk 500 to 1,000 miles to protect yourself from oppression, to fight against gangs, to fight against a government that doesn’t protect you and to come to this country and instead of being treated with respect […] they are treated as criminals and that must end immediately.”

Liberal activists, parents and first-time protesters motivated by accounts of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border rallied in hundreds of other cities nationwide to press President Donald Trump’s administration to reunite the families quickly.

More than 600 marches on Saturday drew hundreds of thousands of people across the country, from immigrant-friendly cities like Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York City to conservative Appalachia and Wyoming under the banner Families Belong Together.

Locally, Lowenthal likened the practice to the country’s time of slavery, when children were separated from their parents, as well as when Japanese Americans were put into internment camps.

“This president must be held accountable. We should put the president in a cage and see what he thinks,” Lowenthal said. “We need to let him understand what these policies are and how un-American these policies are. We need to end this zero tolerance policy, we need to reunite families and we need to treat people coming to this country who are seeking asylum with respect and dignity and love and compassion.”

Photos by Thomas Cordova

The Rev. Leon Wood cautioned the large crowd that while immigrants are being targeted today, others could be next.

“They are now taking advantage of the immigrant situation but don’t you think that they’re not coming after you next,” Wood said. “If you are black and if you are brown, if you are a person of color, if you are any other person that doesn’t fit into their group they are coming after you next. The only way that we are going to be able to stop this is to come together.”

Wood also shared a message with the African American community, reminding them that those south of the border are friends.

“I want the African American community to understand Mexico welcomed us when we were running away from slavery in this nation,” Wood said. “Mexico is our friend and we must stand up and fight for our friends and we must get rid of the border. The time has come for us to stand together, let’s get rid of the border, let’s begin to unite the entire continent and let’s become what we should have been a long time ago: people who love one another and care about one another so we can advance our society instead of killing it.”

For Jedi Jimenez, chair of the Filipino youth organization Anakbayan Long Beach, the separation of families is nothing new. He said many people leave their homelands filled with corruption and violence in search of a better life, sometimes only to be met with discrimination and exploitation.

“We should never forget that the U.S. has intervened and invaded Central and South America countless times. We can’t forget that,” Jimenez said. “For many years the U.S. has funded the Guatemalan military to kill off the country’s indigenous population. There have been coups and fake elections that were supported by the U.S. in Honduras. U.S. foreign policies and free trade agreements like CAFTA, the Central American free trade agreement, forced governments to bow down and give in to the agenda of U.S. imperialism.”

These policies and agreements have resulted in poverty, lack of jobs and social services a well as violence, forcing people to migrate in search of refuge and work.

“Meanwhile the one percent, or the ruling class is benefiting off of these separations and tearing apart families,” Jimenez said.

Photos by Thomas Cordova

Community leaders also called on elected officials once again to make Long Beach a sanctuary city, which would mean full protection of immigrants potentially under threat by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In March, the city passed the Long Beach Values Act, a resolution banning local law enforcement and other city departments from coordinating with federal immigration officers except in cases where immigrants had past convictions.

Lian Cheun, executive director of the local Southeast Asian youth group Khmer Girls in Action, called these “carve-outs” a second punishment for immigrants who already served their time and turned their lives around since then.

“These carve outs mean that if an immigrant has one of many particular convictions, city employees will be allowed to turn them over to ICE,” Cheun said. “Even if they have already served their time in the justice system. And there’s a lot of [people who] claim that only hardened criminals are being deported and that’s untrue. We know they are lying to us because we have had folks who got deported for very minor infractions.”

Cheun said the carve-outs disproportionately hurt Cambodian refugees in Long Beach, home to the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia.

Cambodian Refugees Facing Deportation Orders Granted More Time to Review Cases

“When we resettled in the U.S. and Long Beach, our country has criminalized a lot of acts of survival, a lot of acts of poverty in our community and what that means is that a lot of the Cambodian folks in our community who are trying to survive, dealing with a lot of trauma, are now in a really difficult and hard predicament,” said Cheun, who is also a Cambodian refugee.

While some Long Beach city officials have been outspoken in their opposition to the administration’s recent immigration practices, they have not expressed any intent in discussing or updating the city’s current practice in cooperating with federal immigration officers or in becoming a sanctuary city.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.