More than 50 people gathered outside Congressman Paul Ryan’s Kenosha office Monday to raise their voices in support of immigrant families and ask for Ryan’s help in protecting them.
Led by Carthage College history professor Stephanie Mitchell, the group of concerned residents made its message clear: Keep families together.
Mitchell, her words blaring through a small speaker just outside Ryan’s office, 5031 Seventh Ave., said the federal immigration system, which she said has been broken for a long time, has “crossed a threshold.” She cited the more aggressive, “zero tolerance” policy under the Trump administration, where those who enter the country illegally with their children are separated from them.
“The policy means that all of those parents are immediately being referred for prosecution,” Mitchell said. “They are placed in the custody of the (U.S. Marshal’s Service), and their children are forcibly taken from them and placed under the custody of the refugee agency.”
Mitchell said that, because the children and the parents are being handled by two different government agencies, they don’t necessarily know where each other are placed.
Such a separation has short and long-term physical and emotional impacts on the children, Mitchell said, stating that some of them have been “regressing to their infancy because of the trauma,” including bed-wetting, having terrible nightmares and likely facing “attachment disorder.”
“The American Society of Pediatrics has condemned this practice under the understanding that it will cause long-term physical and emotional damage to the children,” Mitchell said.
Immanuel United Methodist Pastor Bonnie Bell took part in Monday’s rally and took a stand against the “zero tolerance” policy.
“The changeover with the last presidency, and seeing all of the wrong things that have been happening, didn’t allow me to stay silent,” Bell said. “... I think the thing that got me on this one is children and families being separated. I had heard about that where they were being detained coming up into California and I didn’t think that was the right deal.”
Mark Johnson, of Kenosha, said he wants people to make informed decisions on immigration and immigrants, believing many people don’t truly understand the positive impacts that immigrants have on the country.
“We’re a nation of immigrants and our immigration policies are illogical and economically nonsensical, just not well-founded,” Johnson said. “The economics of the immigrant community help everybody. There is a default assumption on a lot of people’s part that they’re draining us in terms of social services and in terms of a lot of benefits ... That just isn’t true. If they all disappeared today, we would lose several points of our Gross Domestic Product overnight.”
As the group marched from Ryan’s office west to Sheridan Road, down to the intersection of Sheridan and 50th Street and back, chants rang out from a megaphone as passersby turned their heads to take in the protest.
“Our friends and neighbors are under attack. What do we do? Stand up and fight back,” one chant echoed through the streets.
However, not everyone was supportive. At one point outside of Ryan’s office, someone in a passing car yelled, “Go home.” After the marchers returned to Ryan’s office after their march, another passing motorist yelled “Donald Trump.”
An unfazed Mitchell, however, encouraged those present to keep reaching out for Ryan’s help, to keep speaking about the issue and to keep pushing for change in any way possible.
“(Ryan) could speak out on this issue and could certainly help move some simple legislation to the floor that’s sitting right there already that would help a great deal,” Mitchell said. “So we’re all here in the 1st District. He listens to us. We need to come back; we need to write him letters; we need to phone him.”