On Father’s Day, children all across America spent time with their families and celebrated their dads. But more than 100 Long Islanders honored fathers in an unconventional way.
From sunrise to sunset, they held a vigil in Patchogue against the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the U.S. border.
“Today is a day when children spend time with their families. Families come together, fathers are with their children,” said Stony Brook resident Cindy Morris, 40, a community organizer with Mattituck-based nonprofit Taking Action Suffolk County. “Yet for the 1,995 children that have been taken from their families, they are not with their fathers today.”
Participants filled the sidewalk outside Rep. Lee Zeldin’s district office’s (R-Shirley), writing messages on the sidewalk with chalk such as “Remember the Children” and “Where is the Love?”
Over seven hours, they sketched the outlines of nearly 2,000 child-sized hands, to represent the estimated number of children separated from their families at the border from April 19 to May 31 according to federal figures obtained by The Associated Press.
Under a new “zero tolerance” policy for immigrants entering the United States illegally that went into effect in May, families crossing the border will be prosecuted instead of being sent to civil deportation proceedings. During a parent’s detainment, children are now being removed from their families and placed either in a shelter or in foster care.
Katie Vincentz, a spokeswoman for Zeldin, said that while it was “hard to take seriously” people who were previously silent about President Barack Obama administration’s immigration policies, separating families at the border was “not a good policy.”
“With that being said, we must enforce the law, secure our borders and stop illegal entry,” she added.
At a May 7 conference in Arizona, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that this separation was required by law. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border,” he added.
On Thursday, he quoted the Bible while defending the contentious immigration policy, stating that the laws of government were ordained by God “for the purpose of order.”
Congressional Republicans have said they expect to vote on an immigration reform bill by the end of next week. Last Thursday, religious leaders and doctors held a rally against the policy outside Rep. Peter King’s Massapequa office.
King (R-Seaford) said Sunday that he didn’t think anyone was “satisfied” with the policy and that Congress needed to find a “much better solution than this.”
“The main thing is we have to get control of the border but you don’t want to do it in a way that destroys families,” he added. “The dilemma you have is you can’t just allow people just walk across the border and let them stay because they have children.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday that borders could be protected without the “horrible’ practice of separating children from their parents.
While the chalk handprints outside Zeldin’s office will slowly fade away, protesters at the Patchogue vigil said that they would continue standing up for every single child separated from their family.
“I have three grown kids and I can’t imagine anyone ever taking them away from me,” said Jim Jacobs, 61, of Eastport. “We should welcome these people. If they have the right reasons, we should let them in.”
Bryan Erwin, the nonprofit’s executive director, said that ultimately, this was an issue transcending politics.
“It’s just not the values we have here on LI,” Erwin, 42, of Mattituck. “It’s a just a fundamental issue of what is right and wrong.”