SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the U.S. border over a six-week period during a crackdown on illegal entries, according to Department of Homeland Security figures.
Under a “zero tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Department of Homeland Security officials are now referring all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution.
The figures show that 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults from April 19 through May 31.
The policy has ignited fervor across the country. Church groups and human rights advocates have sharply criticized the policy, calling it inhumane. Hundreds gathered in Salt Lake City Friday to demand an end to the policy. Here’s what Utah groups and politicians had to say on the matter:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long expressed its position that immigration reform should strengthen families and keep them together. The forced separation of children from their parents now occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border is harmful to families, especially to young children. We are deeply troubled by the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families. While we recognize the right of all nations to enforce their laws and secure their borders, we encourage our national leaders to take swift action to correct this situation and seek for rational, compassionate solutions.”
Governor Gary Herbert
“It is inhumane to forcefully and unnecessarily separate children from their parents. Let’s get past the blaming and shaming, halt this cruel policy, and find common sense federal legislative solutions. #FamiliesBelongTogether,” said Governor Gary Herbert in a tweet. “I have urged Utah’s Congressional delegation to pursue solutions posthaste.”
Senator Orrin Hatch
“While I recognize the difficulty the last two administrations have faced with regard to families illegally crossing the border, I wholeheartedly agree with the President’s comments that a policy that leads to separating children from their families is wrong. I am working with colleagues in both houses on a path forward that recognizes the need for compassion for children and families without incentivizing illegal border crossings. That solution can and should be bipartisan.”
Representative Mia Love
“The Administration’s horrible “zero tolerance” policy has unnecessarily separated children from their parents, and I firmly oppose it. As a mother of three children and daughter of immigrant parents, this is something that’s both very tangible and heartbreaking to me. This is not a partisan issue – it’s an issue of right or wrong.”
“The Administration should change its policy immediately. And Congress must act to address systematic problems. Personally, I have worked, and will continue to work, to ensure that U.S. law prevents family separation going forward. Just last week, I spent hours meeting with colleagues to push for a solution to this issue in the House’s compromise legislation.”
“I have been at the forefront of pushing for action on broader immigration reform this Congress. And you can be assured that I will continue to work towards real solutions that reflect Utah’s values.”
Representative John Curtis
“I, like so many Utahns, am extremely troubled by news reports of small children being separated from their parents at our southern border. I share Utahns’ frustration and am committed to finding a solution. Although I recognize the need to enforce our nation’s immigration laws and to secure and protect our borders, I do not believe that separating families is consistent with who we are as a country-and it most certainly doesn’t reflect the Utah values I was elected to represent in Congress,” Curtis said. “I want all Utahns to know that I, along with my entire staff, am doing everything possible, both in Washington and here at home in Utah, to ensure that our government has the tools needed to keep families together. My staff and I have been in contact with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be briefed on the situation unfolding at the border. Tomorrow, I will join several of my House colleagues for a meeting with President Trump, where I plan to push very hard to see that the Administration takes every effort to keep families together through the legal process determining their eligibility to remain in the U.S. Additionally, the House will likely take a vote this week on immigration reform legislation that includes an authorization for DHS to keep children with their parents while the government determines their eligibility for asylum or if these families will be returned to their home countries. I’m committed and will keep at it until we get this solved.”
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City Oscar Solis
“I join my brother bishops in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in urging the administration to rescind these policies that tear at our core values as a nation. The United States has long upheld the family as the core unit of civil society. We are, and must continue to be, a beacon of hope for families unable to find basic protections and pathways out of poverty within their home countries.
While the U.S. has a right to protect its borders, it has a moral obligation to do so through means that preserve families and the dignity and sanctity of all life. Refusing asylum to women escaping from domestic violence and separating children from their parents is an unnecessary and aggressive act against human life, and unfathomable from a country with a heart as strong as ours.
For decades, the U.S. bishops have advocated for sensible reforms to our long-broken immigration system. I now not only urge our members of Congress to implement reforms, but implore this nation to enforce existing laws with compassion, with recognition that we are the last hope for so many, and with the full understanding that individual human lives are at the heart of immigration issues.”
NAACP SLC Branch President
“The NAACP is appalled by the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy and the separation of children and their parents. This inhumane treatment locking children in cages and treated like animals should not be tolerated by Americans. If we do not speak up against injustices in our country, history will be repeated. We are a country with morals.”
The Utah chapter of Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG) is hosting a “Keep Families Together” vigil in conjunction with an Arizona event held at the border. The event is Saturday, June 23, at 6 p.m. at City Creek Park.
As a daughter of an immigrant and as a mother, Shireen Ghorbani, says it’s not about the left or the right; it’s about what’s morally right.
Ghorbani is the Democratic candidate for Congress in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.
“What is happening to children who are seeking refuge, (and) seeking asylum in this country is wrong,” said Ghorbani. “We need everyone to come to the table and talk about these issues. We need to stop the separation of children from their parents now. We know when we see these images of children who are locked up, separated from their parents, as babes — truly babes in women’s arms to teenagers — we know this is morally abhorrent.”
But not everyone agrees. Cherilyn Eagar says Utahns should support their president.
“I certainly feel sorry for the children,” said Eagar. “No fault of theirs, but it’s the parents who made that decision.”
Eagar says hopeful American citizens must obey the law, and Democrats need to stop holding back.
“I encourage our president and this administration to continue to do what they are to put pressure on those countries to take care of those people and not farm them out to other countries where they can get free services, and take advantage of our welfare programs,” said Eagar. “It puts pressure on everybody and nobody wins.”
Both Eagar and Ghorbani encourage Utahns to become politically active and to vote for change.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.