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Local leaders address US zero-tolerance immigration policy

The Trump administration’s recently-implemented zero tolerance policy for illegal border crossings—which includes criminally prosecuting parents traveling with their children, and the subsequent separation of these children from their families—has stirred passions on both sides of the issue across the country.

The following is a sampling of information and opinion from some local elected officials and others close to the controversy.

The COURIER made every attempt to include voices from both sides of this contentious issue. We sent multiple emails to the offices of Tim Donnelly, a Republican running for the US House of Representatives’ 8th District, but received no response. Similarly, multiple attempts on Facebook for Claremont area supporters of the zero tolerance policy to make their voices heard yielded no results.

Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu, 64, represents Claremont in California’s 27th District in the US House of Representatives. Her parents immigrated legally from China before she was born, and Ms. Chu is the first Chinese American to be elected to the US Congress. She toured a children’s detention facility near the border in San Diego last week.

“It was very sad and overwhelming to think of these kids being ripped from the arms of their parents,” she said. “We talked to the [on site] mental health counselors, and that’s what alarmed us the most. They said that the kids were so traumatized, frightened and anxious. They said most of the kids are escaping brutal violence in Central America and Mexico, and if they were deported back, their futures would not be good.

“Now 2,300 children have been separated from their parents, and in many cases the parents have no idea where their children are,” she continued. “They are in places like Chicago, New York, Virginia, and these children do not know how to get in touch with their parents, and in some cases, the parents have already been deported. Some of these kids are so young they can’t even talk yet. How could they articulate their description of their parents, or even any information on how to reach them?”

John Eastman has been with the conservative think tank The Claremont Institute since the early 1980s. He is a senior fellow and founding director of the Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. He said he liked to think of the administration’s directive not as a “zero tolerance policy,” but as “the enforcement of the law policy.”

“We’ve got a huge problem with a great economic disparity between the United States and a number of other countries south of our southern border,” Mr. Eastman said. “We have the most generous legal immigration policy in the world. More than one million legal immigrants come to this country every year. Another 700,000 come on a temporary work visa under the various work visa programs. That’s based on policy judgments made by congress on how much immigration we can absorb in any given year. If you don’t then follow the law, and you double or triple that number with illegal immigration every year, then the policy judgments made by Congress—which is where our Constitution designed that authority—go out the window, and all of the sudden you have all sorts of other collateral problems that flow.

“Not to mention the folks that have actually taken the step to come to this country legally and waited in line,” Mr. Eastman continued. “If we have to absorb the illegal population as well, we’re going to curtail the number of legal immigrants that can come to this country as a result. So, the people that are law abiding are going to get sent to the back of the bus or the back of the line. It really is a question of, in the face of the most generous immigration policy in the world, are we going to stick with that policy and enforce the law that is required, or are we going to throw up our hands and have open borders and hence really no national sovereignty? Those are the stakes.”

Chris Holden, 57, is a father of five and the California State Assemblyman from the 41st District, which includes Claremont. The Democrat said the zero tolerance policy troubled him deeply.

“To imagine my kids shipped all over the country and maybe two could be in one place and two in another, and some could be on the East Coast and others may be on the West Coast, and I do not know where they are, and they don’t know how to get hold of me, and the system doesn’t know how to get them back to me, that’s a crazy policy,” said Mr. Holden.

“I think there’s obviously a lot of frustration around this intolerant, if you will, policy, the lack of sensitivity that is so woven into what’s being done, and the lack of heart and caring. It just seems to be devoid of what all human beings should have, and that is caring for one another; wanting to do the right thing to be able to protect people, even though there might be some challenges and pressure points of how to implement policies. It’s clear that policies on the fly like zero tolerance have a lot of unintended consequences, and in this case they seriously harm families, but most importantly the children.”

Jed Leano, 38, is an immigration attorney with a focus on deportation and removal proceedings. He’s been a Claremont resident since 2011.

“What is really disappointing for us in the immigration lawyer field is that we are dealing with outrageous wait times in all kinds of cases simply because of a lack of necessary resources,” Mr. Leano said. “All levels of the immigration process are wildly underfunded. In Los Angeles, in the immigration court, there are over 90,000 cases, and there are only 32 sitting judges. And that number keeps increasing daily. The policy of zero tolerance only adds to the problem. Because now, you are adding more process, more litigation, to someone’s undocumented process.”

Maliha Noamani is a 1994 Claremont High School graduate. The 41-year-old is a local activist and California Assembly Delegate to the 41st District, which stretches from Upland to Pasadena. She’s also co-chair of the California Democratic Party’s finance committee, and is organizing Claremont’s event in the Families Belong Together rally and protest, a nationwide demonstration taking place tomorrow, Saturday, June 30 at Memorial Park, 840 N. Indian Hill Blvd. The event starts at noon and will include guest speakers such as California State Senator Connie Leyva, Mr. Leano and Claremont City Councilmember Sam Pedroza, among others. Protestors will march up Indian Hill Boulevard at 1:15 p.m. to Foothill Boulevard, where a demonstration will take place until 3 p.m.

Ms. Noamani is a Muslim. She also immigrated legally from Pakistan to the US, along with her parents and three sisters, when she was two years old.

“America’s been so good to us,” she said. “My roots are in Pakistan, but I affiliate myself more with the American flag because I was raised here. I’m sure all these other kids that are coming, they want a better life too. Who doesn’t? Since Trump has is been in office I’m sure everyone can see there’s been a lot of hate that has escalated, unfortunately. It’s taken a toll on not just the Muslim community, but on so many different communities. It’s unfortunate. I hope that even the people that voted for Trump see this and vote to change it. I hope they see that this isn’t the America that we all know, this isn’t the America that my parents brought me here for. It’s like, I don’t even recognize us anymore and that’s really sad because I love this country.”

Reverends Jen Strickland, 35, and Jacob Buchholz, 30, are married co-pastors at Claremont United Church of Christ. They recently created a petition speaking out against the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Of some 300 parishioners, about 100 signed on, and copies of the petition were sent to several lawmakers.

“We feel that any government policy that separates families is a moral and spiritual issue,” Ms. Strickland said. “It’s an ethical issue, it’s not just a political issue. Particularly when we heard people like [US Attorney General] Jeff Sessions and other government officials were using Scripture to defend their policy. We felt that was an incredible misrepresentation of what we believe Scripture says and the witness that we believe Scripture makes in favor of immigrants. So, we felt compelled to clarify that—as Christians who believe that Scripture is a holy text—it should inform and guide the way that we live our lives and treat one another. We had to speak out against that misrepresentation.”

Mr. Buchholz echoed his wife’s comments. “We have a choice to use the laws in a humane way,” he said. “Currently on the books crossing over the border is a misdemeanor. But none of us have the expectation that if we were caught speeding,” which in its common form is also a misdemeanor, “that our children would be taken from us. Even though crossing the border without any documentation is an illegal activity, we as a country have a choice as to how we treat the people who do this.”

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com