When Mirian, a 29-year-old mother from Honduras, decided to flee the escalating violence in her home country and seek asylum in the U.S. with her 18-month-old son, she had no idea that the end of that harrowing journey would be the beginning of another, even more traumatic ordeal.
Even though she had provided documentation and asked for asylum when she arrived at the U.S. border, the immigration authorities told her that she would be separated from her son. Mirian was made to carry her young child to a government car outside, with no explanation for why they were being separated.
I shudder to think of the horror and powerlessness she must have felt when the officers slammed the door and drove away--with her child wailing desperately inside.
Contrary to Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton's xenophobic smears, Mirian--like millions of asylum-seekers and immigrants of every generation--was not a kidnapper or a human trafficker. She was a mother fleeing for her life, and for the life of her young son.
This is the unspeakable and unnecessary human suffering that the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy has caused all along the border, as thousands of children were separated from their parents. We now know the Trump administration ripped these families apart with no system or plan to reunite them--demonstrating that their cruelty may only be matched by their incompetence.
As this tragedy has unfolded, and as we at the ACLU have fought tirelessly to stop it, this crisis has illuminated some important lessons about the fight for justice in the Trump era: first, that the shocking cruelty of the Trump administration should never be underestimated--and that we need both legal action and grass-roots activism to hold it accountable.
The ACLU filed a national class-action lawsuit in March challenging the separation of families at the border, which led to the reunification of our original plaintiffs. But it took a groundswell of grass-roots opposition and outrage before President Trump finally agreed to halt family separations.
Millions of Americans came together at more than 600 rallies across the United States and right here in Arkansas to oppose the forcible separation of families. Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives--in big cities and small towns--all spoke with one voice that families belong together.
While his record is deeply flawed on the issue of immigration, we commend our Sen. John Boozman for listening to his constituents and joining 12 other Republican senators in calling for a halt to these family separations.
Now the ACLU is working to hold the Trump administration accountable for reuniting these families and ending the needless suffering these separations have caused. We won a federal court order requiring reunification of children under 5 within 14 days (July 10) and all children within 30 days (July 26), and will continue to hold the government's feet to the fire for meeting--or failing to meet--these deadlines.
Moving forward, we must continue to take action--in the streets and through the courts. While the government said that all children reunited with parents would be released from custody, it still raised the specter of family detention in the future and has been shopping for mass-detention sites, including one near the former Japanese-American internment camp in Rohwer.
We know that ending family separation does not require family prisons and that alternatives to family detention not only exist, they are also more humane and far less costly.
The nationwide and bipartisan outcry against family separation shows us that while Trump may have cost our country its moral leadership, he has not taken away our moral compass.
Together, we will keep a stronger, more hopeful vision of America alive: one where everyone is welcome, and everyone is free.