Local human-rights groups gather for Families Belong Together rally

Thousands of LB citizens converge at Cesar Chavez Park, march downtown to protest immigrant-family separations, call for fair sanctuary-city legislation

Video by Sebastian Echeverry

Cesar Chavez Park in downtown Long Beach is usually devoid of large groups on a typical Saturday morning. However, on June 30, thousands of people amassed at the park to participate in the Families Belong Together march in protest of immigrant-family separations at the US-Mexico border– a policy that the Trump administration recently reversed– and to demand for no alleged loopholes found in the Long Beach Values Act.

The crowd began the march by heading up 4th Street, all the while chanting for immigrant rights and support. Children in the crowd leaped and sang along with the adults who carried signs protesting President Donald Trump and calling on the “abolishment” of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

Photos by Sebastian Echeverry | Signal Tribune
Forty-seventh District Congressmember Alan Lowenthal gives an emotional speech during the Families Belong Together march and rally at Cesar Chavez Park on June 30. Lowenthal said that he and 26 other politicians visited the border earlier that week and witnessed “institutionalized child abuse.” He also spoke with the families affected by family separations.

The march ended in the form of a rally at the steps of the Glenn M. Anderson Federal Building on Ocean Avenue.

Gaby Hernandez, program manager with the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, was born in Mexico City and migrated to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. She is currently a DACA recipient and was present during the march.

Hernandez told the Signal Tribune that she joined the movement to deliver the right message.

“I feel like there is a lot of division out there– we’re divided between good immigrants and bad immigrants– and they classify people as not having the certain qualifications to live a comfortable life just because they did certain things or lack certain things,” she said.

Hernandez said that family separation is a “very hot topic” at the moment but that it has been going on for a long time.

Forty-seventh District Congressmember Alan Lowenthal addressed the crowd during a rally before the march began.

He said that he and 26 other politicians visited the border a week before the march and witnessed “institutionalized child abuse.”

“We saw children that were kept in cages,” he said. “We sat with parents that were crying. Do you know what it’s like to lose your child and walk 500 to 1,000 miles to protect yourself from oppression, to fight against gangs [and] to fight against a government that doesn’t protect you?”

Zero Tolerance Policy
The Department of Health and Human Services recently shared images with media outlets of children detained in chainlink fences. The news was recently widespread throughout national media, causing a major uproar from citizens and human-rights groups.

This year, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed attorneys general near the nation’s Southwest border to implement the Zero Tolerance Policy, according to cbp.gov. The policy allows law-enforcement to prosecute adults who illegally enter the country, including those accompanied by minors.

Thousands of people amass at Cesar Chavez Park on June 30 to participate in the Families Belong Together march and rally in protest of immigrant-family separations at the US-Mexico border and to demand no alleged loopholes found in the Long Beach Values Act– a law recently passed to protect immigrants in the city. Protesters marched throughout downtown Long Beach carrying signs protesting President Trump and demanding the “abolishment” of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

The children are then separated from their families because minors are not allowed to be detained with the adults. Following their detention, the children are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency.

Multiple media organizations reported that thousands of children were separated throughout the government’s detention operations.

According to Google Trends, the topics “Zero Tolerance Policy” and “immigrant children” hit their peak on June 20, 2018.

On June 26, US District Judge Dana Sabraw ruled that migrant families separated at the border must be reunited, according to ballotpedia.org.

Sabraw issued a nationwide injunction against separating migrant families at the border. The ruling specified that “children under the age of 5 held in federal shelters should be returned to their parents within 14 days, and children older than the age of 5 should be returned within 30 days.”

Public outcry, social-media posts and even pressure from within the GOP eventually persuaded President Trump to sign an executive order designed to keep families together.

“Clean” LB Values
At the local level, legislation to protect immigrant families is also being demanded.

On Oct. 5, 2017, the state governor approved Senate Bill 54, which prohibited local law-enforcement from notifying federal agencies about individuals it arrested, according to leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.

In September last year, 1st District Councilmember Lena Gonzalez called for the city council to protect immigrant communities through a local “Long Beach Values Act,” which expanded upon SB 54 protections.

The proposed act requested that the city manager, through the Office of Equity, partner with local immigrant rights organizations– the Long Beach Sanctuary City Coalition, Centro CHA, California State University Long Beach, Long Beach City College, and Long Beach Unified School District– to draft a local policy.

In March this year, the city council voted 7-1 to pass the act. Despite the law being put in place to protect immigrants, during Saturday’s march, activists argued that the Long Beach Values Act had “carve-outs,” or loopholes, that would leave certain immigrants out from under the umbrella of protection the act intends to provide.

According to Lian Cheun, executive director of the Khmer Girls in Action, the carve-outs allow City employees to single out immigrants that have had minor run-ins with law-enforcement.

Speaking out against the carve-outs was 7th District Councilmember Roberto Uranga, who said that he was strongly opposed to the carve-outs when it reached the city council.

Shortly after the Families Belong Together march and rally, Uranga told the Signal Tribune that he thinks his colleagues were trying to take a balanced approach when they announced the carve-outs, but he thinks they’re “unfair.”

“One of the carve-outs is dealing with past crime records,” he said. “They’re looking at misdemeanors. It’s not a felony. They were talking about DUIs– if you had a DUI you should be deported. A DUI is a misdemeanor. Those kinds of carve-outs I am not in favor of.”

Uranga said that he does, however, support the deportation of violent criminals that enter the US illegally and that he voiced this concern during city council meetings.

Despite activists’ demands for more lax immigration laws, there are some California groups that think illegal and excessive legal immigration are only hurting the state’s economy and valuable resources.

Ric Oberlink, executive director of Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) in Santa Barbara, told the Signal Tribune during a phone interview Monday that immigration into the US partially fuels overpopulation in the state.

“The high levels of current immigration, we believe, have a negative impact on natural resources and are not good for American workers because they can undercut wages,” he said. “In a nutshell, we would like to see reduced numbers of legal immigration as well as more effective enforcement of our laws against illegal immigration.”

On CAPS’s “About” page online, the organization claims that it is pro-immigration and that CAPS intends to provide “the American Dream” for all. It also states that “it’s [the] government’s irresponsible immigration policy that, to this day, continues to import millions of people with little to no regard for whether they have a skill set that matches the country’s economic needs, whether they will take an American’s job, whether they will end up on welfare or the impact their numbers will have on [the] infrastructure and [the] environment.”

For Oberlink and CAPS, it is sanctuary-city/state policies that he said continue to blur the line between legal and illegal immigration.

“The laws against illegal immigration should be enforced, and there should be cooperation among federal, state and local officers,” he said. “We want local officers to do work with federal immigration officials, cooperate and turn over those who have been apprehended for violating our immigration laws.”

The Signal Tribune reached out to Gonzalez’s office for comment on updates regarding the Long Beach Values Act policy, however, she was not able to respond within press time.