Locals join national effort to protest families being separated at the border
SARANAC LAKE – Joy Kranker knelt on top of a sheet of plastic chicken wire, taping paper silhouettes of children to its surface. The cutouts were not done freehand. Kranker had a few friends who volunteered their children to be traced. The end product was supposed to look similar to Latin American children being held in a detention center.
On Saturday, people all across the nation, including some in this village, participated in the “Families Belong Together” protest, a rally for those against the separating of children and parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Kranker said there were about 800 other protests around the country that day.
Kranker said she wasn’t sure how many people would show up, but she was hoping for at least 50. By the end of the speeches and a short march around the block, about 210 people had participated.
“We’re here to have Saranac Lake like stand up and show its heart,” she said. “Taking children from their families is not OK. That’s the most traumatizing thing you could do to a child. I was trained as a therapist. You don’t do that. You would never separate a child from their family unless it was a last resort to protect them, and doing it for these reasons is not acceptable.”
Kranker lost a child in a car accident more than 10 years ago and said she feels strongly about any scenario where a parent can’t be with his or her child.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “I would do anything for just 15 minutes with my children.”
Not too long ago, President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions instituted a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal entry at the border that starts the prosecution process right away. However, that process takes time, and because of that, adults are sent to jails while their children are sent to detention centers. This is different from prior administrations that would use a “catch-and-release” policy, where someone who crossed the border was released but still had a court hearing at a later date.
In a speech in San Diego at the beginning of May, Sessions said, “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you, as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
After that, Vox reported, 65 children were separated from their parents each day. Public outcry about this policy led Trump to sign an executive order that would end the separation of families.
People gathered at the bandshell at Riverside Park, holding signs that said, “Families Belong Together” and “Resist Trump’s Hate.” One lady pulled around a little red Radio Flyer wagon, which carried a dog crate. Inside the crate were baby dolls covered by a metallic sheet similar to the space blankets given to migrant children at detention centers. On the back of the crate was a sign that asked, “Is this America?”
Though plenty of adults attended, a lot of children rallied, too. Angus Johnston and his daughters Casey and Ellie came from Manhattan for a weekend of camping. They heard about the protest and decided to participate in the midst of their trip. Angus said he tries to instill good values in his children, but he thinks they have formed their own opinions on the matter, too.
Casey, 15, said it makes sense if you’re a child to be invested in this topic.
“It’s children our age and younger who are being affected,” she said, “so we, more than adults, might understand how they feel.”
Ellie, 11, agreed with her sister and added, “If more kids get involved with this, then it will get a lot more powerful.”
As they marched down River Street, protesters shouted call-and-response chants such as “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like,” and “Who cares? We care.” One little girl even started a chant geared toward getting the North Country’s congresswoman, Rep. Elise Stefanik, out of office.
As much as the protest focused on disagreeing with the Trump administration and current policies at the border, Kranker said she was also calling out those who were neutral or disinterested.
“I wasn’t just going to sit back and hear the stories,” she said. “We don’t have that luxury. This is a democracy, and that means you have to participate.”
Rick Dennis, a retired Episcopal priest at the Church of St. Luke in Saranac Lake, echoed Kranker’s call to action. As he stood in front of the crowd, he quoted Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy”: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”