On the eve of Halloween, President Donald Trump, clad in a black and white striped jumpsuit, was handcuffed and led behind bars into a facility in East Harlem.
Except it wasn’t really Trump, but a demonstrator in a mask and the bars were composed of seven strands of black duct tape fastened to the rod of a clothing rack. The facility, however, was genuine. The demonstration, staged by the Movement for Justice in El Barrio occurred on the sidewalk outside the Cayuga Center, the facility currently holding children separated from their parents at the southern border.
Tuesday night’s demonstration was the Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s fourth action in front of the Cayuga Center, where the community tenant organization demanded the reunification of children and parents separated as a result of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy. There, on the sidewalk across the street from a line of garbage trucks and near an overpass for the Metro-North Railroad, about 25 Movement members gathered to stand in solidarity with the children still being held in the center. City officials said that approximately 40 children were in custody in New York City as of September.
“As immigrants, we are directly impacted by this,” said Maria Mercado, a seven-year member of the movement. Juan Haro, a spokesman for the organization, translated on her behalf. “Many of us are mothers and we sympathize and empathize with the mothers whose children were ripped away from them.”
In June, a federal judge ordered the reunification of the thousands of separated children with their parents within 30 days. Nearly four months after this mandate, however, approximately 120 children are still in the custody of the U.S. government, according to an October report from the American Civil Liberties Union.
For those separated children being held in New York, there is currently no publicly available data on how many are being held or in which facilities, nor on how many have been reunited thus far. Members of the state legislature introduced the SCAR Act, a piece of legislation that aims to increase the transparency of these state facilities, last summer. However, members of the Movement are not completely sold.
“We don’t believe that that tackles the root of the problem,” Mercado said. “We don’t think it really makes much of a difference.”
The demonstration also arrives at the heels of yet another Trump-sized controversy. Yesterday, the president announced plans to end birthright citizenship for those with noncitizen parents through an executive order.
“We believe that is also another attack toward immigrants [and] a violation of the Constitution,” Mercado said. “The folks who were born here who are citizens also pay taxes and we should have every right to remain here.”
Last year, the organization — first established in order to push back against neighborhood gentrification — launched a new campaign for immigrant justice. Even before Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, many parents and children in East Harlem expressed concerns of separation due to deportation, said Haro, “So when we found out a few months ago that kids were being ripped apart from their parents at the border and brought here, it resonated.”
The congregated movement members, wearing the organization’s light blue t-shirts over their winter jackets, held signs in Spanish and English reading “#DefundHate” and “El Barrio Dice: Ya Basta Trump.” Passerbyers — walking dogs, biking, toting plastic bags full of take-out — drifted through the demonstration, glancing at their signs and the mock Trump locked behind the mock bars. Occasionally, a Metro-North train passed overhead, the clanging metallic sound of the churning wheels drowning out their chants of “Libertad, libertad, para los niños, libertad!” — but not for long.
Photo: Members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio rally outside a foster center in East Harlem that houses migrant children separated from their parents. Credit: Chelsey Sanchez.