Protesters packed Pittsburgh’s Sixth Presbyterian Church Wednesday night to denounce the Trump administration’s family separation policy, which has resulted in thousands of migrant children being separated from their families after their parents were detained for attempting to illegally enter the U.S.
The separations were enacted as part of Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, which holds that any adult crossing the border illegally will be criminally prosecuted. After widespread public protest and bipartisan criticism, the president signed an executive order Wednesday afternoon ending the practice. It came following days of Trump blaming both Congress and Democrats for the policy, which was created by his administration.
Leaders from the Church of the Redeemer and Temple Sinai co-hosted the vigil, which was planned before the Executive Order was signed.
Although family separation is over, Sixth Presbyterian Reverend Vince Kolb said the fight is just beginning.
“There’s still a zero tolerance policy in place. This means that children and families will be detained together in jail still,” Kolb said. “The cages and the tender aged detention centers still stand, and the daily dehumanization of refugees in our country seeking asylum does not vanish with the magic stroke of a pen.”
Vigil attendee Abbey Lea agreed. She said the executive order is a small step in the right direction but a lot of work is needed.
“There are still kids separated from their families and it’s going to be really, really hard to get them back with their families,” Lee, 19, said. “A little pen on paper isn’t going to exactly fix things completely.”
That's true in a legal sense as well, said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and WESA legal consultant.
"The lawsuits will begin flying thick and fast from every direction" in the wake of Trump's order, Harris said. The order envisions detaining children and parents together -- an approach that courts have previously ruled was illegal if used for three weeks or more.
"Every president has had to deal with this very dificult problem" of handling immigrant families, Harris added. "In no other case has there been a decision to separate toddlers from their mothers. ... Yes, if a parent goes into prison, the parent is separated from the child. But we don't take the child and ... send him into some kind of government holding center 2,000 miles away."
Wednesday night's rally ended with a call for future protests in the coming weeks, including a Monday afternoon demonstration at the Pittsburgh office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Sidney Street. Organizers announced plans to rally out front before marching to the Hot Metal Bridge.
Chris Potter contributed to this report.