Faith leaders rally in Augusta to protest detention of immigrant children

They say the Trump administration policies that put immigrant children in detention facilities constitute a moral crisis.

By Abigail AustinKennebec Journal Share

The Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill speaks at Wednesday's rally in Augusta. Faith leaders from around the state gathered to bring attention to the detention of immigrant children in facilities across the nation.

The Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill speaks at Wednesday’s rally in Augusta. Faith leaders from around the state gathered to bring attention to the detention of immigrant children in facilities across the nation. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

AUGUSTA — Bath resident Katherine Bouttenot brought her 1-year-old daughter, Sylvie, to Augusta on Wednesday to take part in a rally protesting the detention of immigrant children in the United States.

“I would do literally anything to protect my baby,” Bouttenot said while standing outside the office of Republican Sen. Susan Collins, “and to talk about it in terms different than that, I think is morally wrong.”

Faith leaders from around the state rallied Wednesday to bring attention to the detention of immigrant children in facilities across the nation. They also wanted to highlight the policies that put children there and called the situation a moral crisis.

The 1,000-bed Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Florida, was reopened last year as part of President Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. Moral Movement Maine, one of the groups at the protest, said there are currently more than 100 child immigrant detention centers in the U.S. and 10,500 children detained in residential facilities.

“From the very founding of this country, we have torn children from their parents,” the Rev. Dr. Jodi Cohen Hayashida of First Universalist Church of Auburn said during a prayer, “and then wield those traumatized children against their parents as a lever to force their parents to obey.”

The faith leaders urged rally participants to ask Maine’s congressional delegation – Collins, Sen. Angus King, an independent, and Reps. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, and Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, to:

• Vote for the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act, a bill that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from operating temporary emergency shelters for unaccompanied children, including the one in Homestead;

• Terminate the policy giving Immigration and Customs Enforcement access to fingerprint and background information on sponsors of the immigrant children for enforcement purposes;

Diane Dicranian of Bath speaks about the U.S.-Mexico border during the rally Wednesday in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

• Ensure that all child detainees receive services accorded under the Flores settlement.

A total of 163 faith leaders from across the state signed a petition they submitted with their requests to Maine’s members of Congress.

Following the rally, the protesters migrated to Collins’ office, where they spoke with her representative, Mark Winter.

After listening to their appeal, he explained that Collins agreed with many of the group’s views and was opposed to the separation that is occurring.

“She wants to get a lot more funding for the immigration courts so all of those asylum claims can be heard quickly,” Winter said.

The faith leaders asked rally participants to follow up on the requests with the state’s congressional leaders in one week. Rev. Peggy Schnack, of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Brunswick, plans to ask members of her congregation to sign a petition asking Maine’s federal representatives to hear requests made at the rally.

“They are a socially-minded community who likes to know what’s going on,” she said of her congregation.

Sherry Beck-Poland of Lewiston, an adoptive parent of two teenagers she first fostered, criticized Trump’s policies.

“This administration has taken too many people away from their families,” she said.

Beck-Poland hopes to visit the Homestead center when she is in Florida on vacation this month.

Other groups taking part in the rally included the Maine Council of Churches, Maine Poor People’s Campaign, Winthrop Area Ministerial Association and Castine Compassionate Coalition.

Abigail Austin — 621-5631

Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ Share