September 27, 2020

A human rights organization is for the next four weeks leading up to November’s election erecting billboards across the nation loudly demanding the release of asylum-seeking children and their parents from U.S. immigration prisons. "We came here for protection and they took away our freedom,” reads one billboard in Texas, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts two dangerous and inhumane migrant family jails. “Demand ICE free the families.”

“Trucks with the same artwork were also sent on routes in Washington, D.C. passing by the White House, DHS and ICE headquarters, the U.S. Capitol, and the National Mall,” Amnesty International USA said in a press release, “with several messages on the back and sides reading: ‘We were looking for a home and this is where they’ve left us: demand Chad Wolf free the families.’”

Even as federal courts have urged the immediate release of children from migrant family jails as more than 5,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 while in federal immigration custody, ICE has steadily refused to release them and their parents together, and has instead pushed a “binary choice” policy that would result in even more family separation.

“The U.S. government has held children—for weeks, months, and in some cases, years—longer than is permissible by international law,” Amnesty International USA said. In one example this past March, a seven-year-old girl and her dad were finally freed from a family jail in Pennsylvania after a horrific 250 days in detention. “The government has failed to explain why it refuses to exercise its discretion to release parents with their children,” the organization continued, “particularly as it is well-established that detention is not in the best interest of a child.”

That Pennsylvania facility is among those being targeted by the Amnesty International USA campaign.

“Billboards that read, ‘We were searching for safety and they locked us away: demand ICE free the families’ were launched in Philadelphia, blocks away from the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, City Hall, and the ICE Field Office that handles the detention of families held in its Berks County Residential Center in Leesport,” the organization said, with community members like youth activist Ciara Macmullen also taking further direct action to pressure ICE for these families’ freedom.

“Throughout the months of September and October, Amnesty International USA members throughout the country, like Ciara, will call, write letters, and email ICE each week, pressuring the agency to free all families,” the organization said. “Members are also placing yard signs in front of their homes to demonstrate solidarity and welcome to the detained families seeking to live in safety and freedom in their communities.”

“I felt the destructive actions of ICE firsthand after one of the families in my neighborhood was deported,” Macmullen said in the release. “Families seeking welcome and community in this country deserve acceptance, not imprisonment.” Amnesty International USA also recently issued a “rare call” urging the Senate to halt the nomination of unlawfully appointed acting DHS Sec. Chad Wolf.

“Chad Wolf has participated in, and in many cases presided over, DHS’s perpetration of serious human rights violations,” Americas Advocacy Director Charanya Krishnaswami said this week. “From proposing the separation of families to recklessly detaining tens of thousands of people during a global pandemic to deploying DHS forces to “dominate” civil rights protesters, Wolf has an abysmal record on human rights. Until that record is fully and thoroughly investigated, Wolf’s nomination should not proceed.”

“Kids belong with their families in safe homes and conditions, not locked away without their freedom for months or years on end, especially as a pandemic threatens their very lives,” said Denise Bell, researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA. “ICE has the power to free the families but chooses not to. We’re using the tool we all have at our disposal: shining a light on this dangerous injustice and letting detained families know that we will not give up until every single family is freed.” Free the families now—and defeat Chad Wolf’s nomination.

Republished with permission from Daily Kos.

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