During the holidays, I spent a day with a group of children who had a message for Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. These youngsters, who come from immigrant communities in Florida, told Mayor Gimenez that their wish for the holidays was that he protect their families from detainment and possible deportation.
In late January, Mayor Gimenez caved in to Donald Trump’s executive order threatening to strip funding from “sanctuary cities” effectively allowing county jails to indefinitely hold immigrants for ICE to deport. The same group of children went back to the Mayor’s office to tell him that he had broken their hearts by putting them at risk of being separated from their families.
Now, these children are speaking up even louder and taking their message to the President himself. Instead of enjoying their spring break like so many children nationwide, these young activists joined a press conference Monday in Downtown Miami, where they delivered a failing report card to Mayor Gimenez for following Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. Then about 40 children boarded a bus to Washington D.C. to join with young people from D.C., New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and other places nationwide for a demonstration Thursday in front of the White House.
“I want to send a message to Donald Trump that we belong together. We’re all connected and we should stick up for each other,” said Yoana, who is a 13 year-old from Homestead, Florida. “That’s why we’re going to the White House. We have to stand up for each other. For me, this is an opportunity to show my mom how much I love her. She works hard in the fields every day to be able to feed us. Protecting her from Trump is the least I can do.”
These children are the collateral damage that comes from the anti-family immigration policies being pushed by the Trump administration, which is focused on more deportations, family separation, lack of investment in schools and the criminalization of communities. All these actions by the administration put our children and their families under threat more than ever before.
When I was growing up, I looked towards my parents whenever I felt scared or uncertain. However, for undocumented families, the roles of parent and child can be reversed, especially when the children are U.S. citizens. These children live with the fear that their parents will be taken away from them. Instead of enjoying their childhood, these inhumane immigration policies rob them of their innocence.
A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows that the children of immigrant families fear the possibility of being separated from their families and also experience bullying and harassment by other students, leading to stress and a decline in performance at school.
Leah, who is 11 from Miami and whose mother is a domestic worker facing a deportation order, knows that fear all too well.
“I live with the fear of being separated from my mother every day,” she said while rallying outside of the White House. “It is like when somebody you care about can die at any moment, why can’t I just enjoy being a kid? I cannot sleep or do my homework. All I can think about is my mother being taken away from me. I am so worried about my life.”
Leah might be 11 years old, but she is one of the country’s most determined immigration advocates. When she was 10, Leah asked her fifth grade teacher for permission to organize her class and eventually got her classmates to write twenty two letters to immigrant children who are being detained at immigration detention facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania.
Children should not have to feel the weight of the world on their shoulders because of the threat of being separated from their family. It’s unfortunate that our inhumane immigration system forces children like Leah, who will grow up seeing her parents work so hard yet suffer so much and so needlessly, have the burden of having to step up to protect their families.
Thomas Kennedy is a writing fellow for the Center for Community Change.
This article first appeared on Huffington Post.