Protesters demand reunification of immigrant families

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Nearly 100 people rallied in Grand Rapids Wednesday to push for reunification of immigrant families separated at the United States’ southern border.

“I have two children myself and to imagine them being taken away from me, I can’t handle it. It’s not OK,” protester Rachael Koeson said.

The rally, which was peaceful, took place across the street from Bethany Christian Services, which is helping house some of the separated children. Some signs carried by protesters urged Bethany Christian Services to end its contract with the government.

The Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP hosted the event.

“We live in one of the most conservative Christian cities in probably in the state of Michigan,” Cle Jackson, the president of the local NAACP, said, “and so as people of faith, we need to recognize that this issue is totally immoral.”

Many of the protesters were from West Michigan and some brought their own children, but the Detroit chapter of NAACP also bused in people to participate. Other protesters included people affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, UAW and religious and clergy groups from across the state.

“Let the children free. Don’t destroy families,” signs carried by the Detroit NAACP protesters said.

“Love thy neighbor. No exceptions,” another protester’s homemade sign read.

“When I heard people from Detroit were coming to Grand Rapids, there was no reason for me not to get over here and help,” Julie Swanson of Grand Rapids said.

She said she was heartbroken when she learned babies were being separated from their mothers crossing the border illegally, seeking asylum in the U.S.

“I have no ill-will towards Bethany Christian Services,” Swanson said. “I’m sure that they have a really good spot in their hearts for these children, but we want families to be reunited.”

Following the rally, the NAACP and other organizations met with Bethany Christian Services. Cle Jackson said the meeting went well and that Bethany Christian Services agrees families need to be together. Last week, Bethany Christian Services told 24 Hour News 8 it was already working to reunite families.

The agency provided 24 Hour News 8 with this statement Wednesday evening:

“Bethany Christian Services is in full agreement with the NAACP that children should not be separated from their families and we will not rest until those who have been separated are reunified with their families. That has been and will always be our first priority. We’ve had brief conversations with the NAACP – and have invited them to meet with us – to discuss how our two organizations can work together to create a powerful voice to further advocate for these vulnerable children and their families. We hope to continue these discussions. For it is only by working together that we can truly make a difference.”

A federal judge in California ordered Tuesday night that all separated families must be reunited within 30 days and that children younger than 5 years old must be back with their families within two weeks. The judge also issued an injunction meant to prevent future separations, a policy already halted when President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week amid widespread outrage.

The Associated Press reports that more than 2,000 children had been separated from their families under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegally crossing the border.

Families will now again be held together pending review of their cases.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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