By Maribel Sierra
We don’t always pause to think of the human impact of a news headline. Take the zero-tolerance immigration policy announced by the Trump Administration in May, which instructs the Department of Homeland Security to prosecute people coming to the US, often seeking refuge from their home countries. The harmful nature of the zero-tolerance approach centers on Border Patrol forcibly separating children from their parents, in order to prosecute their parents in criminal court.
Unfortunately, family separation is not only happening at the border, it’s happening in our communities too.
On June 1st, I attended the #FamiliesBelongTogether National Day of Action in Oakland with my colleagues at Human Impact Partners. Responding to a call for a national day of action from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the ACLU, and Moms Rising, advocates and community leaders across dozens of cities convened to call attention to the widespread issue of family separation that extends beyond the border to towns and cities throughout the US, including those right here in the Bay Area. The day of action in Oakland was organized by Mujeres Unidas y Activas, La Colectiva, Hand in Hand, and Bay Resistance, local groups organizing for immigrant rights and to stop family separation.
The experiences shared by community members on the steps of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office reaffirmed that these policies have consequences visible in our neighborhoods.
For a Isabella, 13-year speaker at the Oakland rally, family separation isn’t something she had to read about to understand. Isabella’s dad was detained by immigration and she is living the effects of family separation in real time. “Being so close and so far from a family member is the hardest,” she reflected on having a parent in detention and expressed the isolation she feels from her peers because she doesn’t know how they might react if she shared what she’s going through. Isabella and other children experience feelings of isolation and anxiety as a result of family separation which ultimately impacts health, behavior, and educational outcomes (see Human Impact Partners report: Family Unity, Family Health).
Overall, the Oakland #FamiliesBelongTogether National Day of Action speakers pressed the Alameda County Sheriff to stop cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and urged the Trump Administration to end family separation.
Isabella’s story really resonated with me as someone who also comes from a family of immigrants.
I am no stranger to grappling with the realities that face communities of mixed documentation status yet my familiarity with the issues does not make overcoming them any easier. At homes, schools, and places of worship I have often heard the hushed conversations of worries and fears people have of the possibility that a family member might get detained by law enforcement who could call ICE. Sometimes our worst fears are realized and a family member, friend, or neighbor may no longer be part of the community because they have been detained by ICE.
It’s essential that we take opportunities to listen to the stories of people impacted by immigration detentions and deportations. This helps us get away from the news headline hooks and take a look at our own surroundings to understand that zero-tolerance at the border reaches our own backyards. We must also urge our elected leaders to support unity by keeping families as they belong, together.
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Maribel Sierra is a Research Intern at Human Impact Partners. She supports housing research and contributes to the Health Instead of Punishment program.
Maribel was raised in North Carolina and is a current student at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health in the Department of Health Behavior. She has previously lived and worked in Oakland and is happy to return to the Bay Area to enjoy its sights and sounds. In her free time, Maribel can be found perusing local farmers markets, enjoying bubble tea, or hiking local trails.