By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña
To kick off a weekend of nationwide demonstrations against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris joined immigrant rights supporters to rally against family separation on Friday.
Harris toured the Otay Mesa Detention Center, while several dozen supporters poured off the sidewalk onto the street and denounced the treatment of immigrant families.
The center is the only immigration detention facility in the county and is owned by the private prison company CoreCivic, which contracts to hold individuals in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The senator spoke to three mothers detained at the center during her tour and after exiting, Harris shared with attendees that her heart was broken.
“These mothers have given testimony, have given the stories, have shared their personal stories that are a story of a human rights abuse being committed by the United States government,” Harris said.
Harris spoke to the injustice of the separation of parents and children and expressed sympathy for parents who believed it was safer to endure the trip to the U.S. rather than staying home.
Harris shared with supporters that as a U.S. Senator, she was informed that parents are given free phone calls with their children, however, after her visit she discovered they are charged 85 cents a minute.
“I ask this administration, why would we think these parents to be any different than any one of us when we understand that nothing can comfort our children more at the end of their day than knowing they can speak with their parent and receive a kiss and a hug,” Harris said. “We are depriving over 2,000 children of the benefit of that.”
The senator also said the center resembles a prison and has been outspoken about the need for oversight in immigration detention facilities.
Harris and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) introduced a bill last month that aims to increase the oversight of ICE detention centers.
The Detention Oversight Not Expansion Act or DONE Act was introduced to the Senate on May 15 and was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. The DONE Act would also establish that federal funds not be used for the construction or expansion of immigration detention facilities.
Harris and immigrant rights supporters at the rally echoed that President Donald Trump’s executive order to suspend the practice of family separation does not deal with reuniting families who have already been separated.
Local leaders of immigrants’ rights organizations joined Sen. Harris on Friday.
Leaders of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Casa Cornelia, San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, San Diego Organizing Project and Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles were among those in attendance.
Immigrant rights supporters rallied against the separation of families and insisted that family separation is not over until the administration can prove that every child has been reunited with their parent(s).