Martinsville, Henry County residents urge Congress to reunite immigrant families

Eric Stamps Immigration Rally DACA Martinsville Henry County

MARTINSVILLE – More than 50 people stood in front of the Martinsville Municipal Building on Saturday afternoon to promote one simple message: Families should stay together.

The Southern Virginia Latino Association and Indivisible Southside on Saturday hosted a “Keep Families Together” rally in front of the municipal building, one of hundreds of such events held across the nation to protest the presidential administration’s recently enacted policy of separating immigrant and refugee families crossing the southern border.

The aforementioned policy was implemented in April 2018, but following public backlash, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 suspending the policy for an indefinite period of time.

“Even though there was an executive order signed to reunite families, there’s no pressure, no checks and balances to make sure that actually happens,” said Eric Stamps with Indivisible Southside, a non-partisan progressive organization representing Danville, Pittsylvania County, Martinsville and Henry County. “We don’t know the real number of kids who are separated or what the timetable is going to be (for reunification). So much money is being put into detaining people – I believe it’s $400 per day per person in these private prisons – yet there isn’t enough money to fund the immigration courts or to put more judges at the border to speed up this process.”

Eli Salgado with the Southern Virginia Latino Association began the event with a moment of silence for the five journalists killed in the Capital Gazette shooting in Annapolis, Maryland.

A DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, Salgado was brought to this country from Mexico when he was just four years old. He told the crowd that he did not know he was undocumented until he applied for a driver’s license as a young adult.

It is disturbing, Salgado said, to see photos and videos of young children being held in cages in private prisons.

“They’re put in conditions that are not meant for kids,” Salgado said. “They’re not meant for any human being. … These are people that are just trying to come here and live a better life, trying to fight for their families, and I think the detention of these people, of our people, is inhumane and wrong.”

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Eli Salgado with the Southern Virginia Latino Association speaks at a "Keep Families Together" rally held Saturday at the Martinsville Municipal Building.

The situation, Salgado said, should force all Americans to demand that our government reunite these families.

“We’re doing things that no country should do,” he said. “This country should be leading other countries, providing an example of what it is to treat its neighbors with compassion, with love, with respect.”

“The scary thing about it is that you really can’t trust anything this administration is saying,” Stamps said. “One day, they say that they can’t stop the separation of families because Congress has to do it, then, ten minutes later, the president decides to sign an executive order. With that, there’s really no accountability or any checks and balances to see if these kids are going to be reunited with their families or not.”

Many of the people immigrating to America are fleeing corruption and violence in Central and South America, Stamps said, much of that corruption caused by decades of U.S. foreign policies.

“The people are fleeing a situation of extreme poverty to come here and, more than likely, live a life of poverty in the United States,” he said. “That’s how much they want to flee that situation.”

Other speakers at the event included Dr. Makunda Abdul-Mbacke, Maria Salazar, Martin Salgado, Denise Simmons, Gerie Fatundimu and others.

Salazar, who was brought to the U.S. when she was seven years old, is also a DACA recipient. This issue, she said, is not about immigration; it’s about basic humanity.

“We spend too much time judging others based on looks and bias, and we fail to see humans as humans,” she said. “It’s easy to say ‘Why don’t they just come legally?’ from the comfort of your air-conditioned home. These are people that are running away from violent husbands, from drugs, from a government that’s killing its own people. They’re coming for a better future, even if it means starting from scratch. These people leave all they know behind trying to find a better future for themselves and their kids only to be separated once they get here.”

“The Statue of Liberty says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door,’” Salazar continued. “America, what happened to that promise?”

Simmons, who served with both the Marine Corps and the Army, said that while she could not speak for all service members, she felt she could speak for most.

“We didn’t serve for this,” she said. “This is not why some of us gave all. Some of us gave all so that we could keep the rights that we have, the rights that were fought for by all of our forefathers.”

When asked by the Martinsville Bulletin if he was concerned to be a part of rallies such as Saturday’s out of fear of retributive violence, Stamps said that he knows many protesters are afraid of being followed home and attacked or fired from their place of employment.

“It’s a little bit of a concern, but I’ve kind of gotten to a point where I can’t be afraid anymore to go and speak out,” Stamps said. “If you do nothing, nothing’s going to happen. I’d rather be out here, and I’ll take the risk. That’s the reason a lot of people are here today.”

Ben William / Jun 30, 2018