BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Queens leaders and hundreds of residents—including children—gathered in Woodside on Monday for a march and protest against the Trump administration’s family-separation policy for immigrants seeking asylum.
As a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, children were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and held in detention centers,
where they slept on mats with aluminum foil. Beginning on June 21, some of the
children were flown to foster homes across the country.
More than 300 of those children, including infants, arrived at LaGuardia Airport this week, drawing protests against the separation policy. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), local organizations—such as Make The Road New York—and hundreds of residents gathered at the airport on Thursday and Friday for protests.
“When I arrived at the airport, it was devastatingly sad to realize this is happening in our country,” Van Bramer told the Queens Tribune. “This country is made of immigrants, the children of immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants. All of us, all of our families, struggled to come here just like the immigrants and refugees we see at the border. And to think that this is what has become of our government, that children would be ripped from their parents’ arms and taken on airplanes and flown thousands of miles away is devastating.”
That night, as he watched protesters cry for the children separated from their families, Van Bramer said he realized that borough residents were “willing to put their bodies on the line and fight,” and decided to host his own rally to protest Trump’s policy.
On Monday night, hundreds of people—including children—gathered outside St. Sebastian’s Church in Woodside to rally and march against family separation. The crowd made its way down Roosevelt Avenue, across Queens Boulevard, down Greenpoint Avenue, and ended at Noonan Playground. They chanted, “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here”; “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like”; and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”
“We chose this path because it is the route that children travel every day,” said Van Bramer. “We want everyone to know that every child and every immigrant is safe here all the time.”
Leandra Requeña, a Queens resident who had immigrated to the United States for her daughter, said that she was broken- hearted to see those children suffering and crying for their parents. Requeña was 25 years old when her husband immigrated to the United States to set a foundation for her and their then–5-year-old daughter.
“From the first day that she saw the plane fly away with her father until the time she saw him again, she would cry,” Requeña said. “As a mother, I felt a lot of pain, and after five months of watching my daughter suffer, I decided that wherever I have to go for her, I will go. I will not see my daughter suffer wanting her father.”
Requeña said that she knew nothing about the United States or how to cross the border.
“I put my faith in God and I prayed,” she said. “And when I saw my daughter unite with her father and hug him with excitement, that’s when I knew I was a good mother. So, when I see this, it breaks my heart. How cruel, how despicable of a president. He doesn’t have humanity. He doesn’t have any kind of values.”
Requeña said that adults can face trials, but children shouldn’t have to undergo the trauma of being taken away from their parents, held in cages, given vaccinations without authorization and shipped to foster homes.
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that children will no longer be stripped from their families. But he also called for getting rid of due process at the border.
“He wants to simply take people and remove them and bring them back to where they came from without any process whatsoever,” said Van Bramer. “This is not the president speaking; this is a dictator speaking. This is not who we are, and this is not what this country is about.”
The crowd at the rally included adults, families, children, physically disabled residents and pets.
Meghan, a 14-year-old member of Glendale’s Troop 4791, participated with her troop, all of whom held heartfelt signs that they personally designed.
“Just to think about being separated from your family is just horrible,” Meghan told the Queens Tribune. “To think that, at the border, these kids and families who want to escape from problems that are under their hands, to be separated from their families is just terrible.”
Meghan said that the immigrants on Ellis Island in the 1800s had an easier time trying to escape hardship in their native countries than those doing so today.
“But these children, who are young and can’t find their parents after they’re separated, is just terrible,” said Meghan. “They’re too young to understand what’s going on in this country and what’s happening to them in their homes.”
Lisa O’Hara, a Sunnyside resident, shared with the Queens Tribune a personal experience that she had with her family when she lived in Washington, D.C. O’Hara’s family is originally from Iowa, a state that she said is predominantly white.
“When my family visited me in Washington, D.C., they were horrified when a black person got on the train, and then by the end of the day, after they had been to the mall, seen all the saris and the hijabs, they didn’t care anymore,” said O’Hara. “There are people in white America that are afraid of what they don’t know, and they are telling us, people who live every day with everybody comfortably and happily, how to live.”
O’Hara said that it is every American’s duty to do a better job of educating others on the importance of immigrants.
“It does not have to be this hard and it does not have to be ugly,” said O’Hara, who was overcome with emotion. “It doesn’t have to be like this.”
“This,” she said, while pointing at the diverse crowd at the protest, “is beautiful.”
The “zero tolerance” policy was enacted in April, handing over those who cross the border illegally for federal prosecution, including children.
Since then, over 2,000 children were taken away from their families and placed in shelters or foster care around the country while their parents undergo their criminal cases.
On June 20, Trump signed an executive order ending the policy.
“We’re signing an executive order. I consider it to be a very important executive order,” said Trump. “It’s about keeping families together, while at the same time being sure we have a very powerful, very strong border.”
However, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, although the policy has stopped taking children from their families, it does not address the over 2,000 children who have already been placed in shelters and foster homes throughout the country.
Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he is currently trying both to calculate how many children have been brought to the city and to reunite them with their families.
Reach reporter Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400, ext. 144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.