About 60 people chanting rally cries such as “Actions not words, John, actions not words” took to the Capitol Monday morning demanding that Gov. John Hickenlooper issue an executive order against human rights violations.
And that he did.
As the Trump administration enforces its “zero-tolerance policy” on illegal immigration, the term-limited Democrat joined governors in states like New York and Massachusetts in a stand against separating immigrant families — an action he called “inhumane.”
Hickenlooper issued an executive order Monday barring any state agencies from using resources to separate children from their parents based solely on immigration status. In the order, Hickenlooper noted that an estimated 2,000 children have been separated by U.S. agents in the last six weeks and called those efforts “cruel and un-American.”
Organizer Laura Richards said she was keeping up with the news about families being torn apart at the U.S.-Mexico border and couldn’t sleep thinking about the impact. It was when she attended last weekend’s Juneteenth celebration in Denver that she felt the need to take action.
“How can we celebrate [these human rights victories] while other people are suffering human right violations – you know the basic human right to, as a parent, care for and protect your child?” Richards said.
The granddaughter of a World War II veteran, Richards also credited her grandfather’s experience and outlook on his own privilege as her inspiration to mobilize people to the Capitol.
“He always said, ‘I’ve lived an usually fortunate life. And when you lived an unusually fortunate life, you have a higher responsibility for those that don’t.’”
Richards likened the POTUS-enforced yanking of children away from their parents to efforts in Nazi Germany when people were initially separated by small identifiers and forced to wear colored arm bands signifying those differences. Soon, Richards noted, people were being sent to concentration camps and gas chambers.
Fanny Starr, a 96-year old Auschwitz survivor, also drew parallels between the Third Reich and current U.S. treatment of immigrant children. Starr recalled watching a train full of children disappear in World War II, and broke into tears from disbelief that kids are being snatched from their parents under the Trump administration.
“She stood there with some amazing courage to share. She shared how she ended up in the ghetto and then the concentration camp. She lost every member of her family,” Richards said of Starr. “To have to relive that in order to stop such an atrocity from even beginning to occur, it is a shame that she had to do that. We vowed to never forget, and never again.”
Richard said Starr, along with a handful of others, was invited to speak privately with Hickenlooper the morning he released his executive order.
The practice of forcibly breaking apart immigrant families, especially those with young children, is drawing condemnation from both sides of the aisle, and several prominent Republicans — including former Laura Bush, Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, and even Melania Trump — are speaking out.
As has become his habit, the President took to Twitter early Monday morning, criticizing Democrats for a lack of voter turnout on “the world’s worst immigration laws.”
“Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs, including MS-13, coming into our country illegally?” he tweeted.
Jackie St. Joan, who helped organize Monday’s rally, noted that law enforcement agencies have “a lot of discretion” when it comes to what policies are or are not enforced. “Previous administrations did not enforce this. This one is doing it for political reasons,” said the former Denver judge who volunteers as The Colorado Independent’s news poetry editor but was expressing her personal views, not those of the news site.
While Richards said the rally was influential, she also believes more needs to be accomplished than one executive order. She emphasized the need to keep pushing Hickenlooper “to ensure that nothing like that is occuring in Colorado” and to encourage people throughout the state to be on the watch not just for forced separations, but for any time of federal, state or local overreaching on immigration.
“We need to make sure that every person is recognizing that this is a violation of every core human value that any decent human being should have,” she said. “We cannot stand by silently and quietly and allow it to continue. Every minute that ticks by, another child is stripped from their parents.”
Photo of two young protestors courtesy of Jackie St. Joan