AUGUSTA — Bath resident Katherine Bouttenot brought her 1-year-old daughter, Sylvie, to Augusta on Wednesday to take part in a rally decrying the detaining of immigrant children in the U.S.

Diane Dicranian, of Bath, speaks during a rally Wednesday in the plaza between the Burton M. Cross State Office Building and Maine State House in Augusta.

“I would do literally anything to protect my baby,” said Bouttenot, outside the office of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, “and to talk about it in terms different than that, I think is morally wrong.”

Faith leaders from around the state rallied Wednesday to bring attention to the detention of immigrant children in facilities across the nation. They also wanted to bring focus on the policies that put children there, a situation rally participants consider to be a moral crisis.

The 1,000-bed Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Florida, was reopened last year as part of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. Moral Movement Maine said there are currently more than 100 child immigrant detention centers in the U.S. and 10,500 children detained in residential facilities.

“From the very founding of this country, we have torn children from their parents,” said the Rev. Dr. Jodi Cohen Hayashida, of First Universalist Church of Auburn, during prayer, “and then wield those traumatized children against their parents as a lever to force their parents to obey.”

The faith leaders urged rally participants to ask Collins and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, to:

• Vote for Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act, a bill that would prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from operating temporary emergency shelters for unaccompanied children, including the one in Homestead, Florida;

The Rev. Jodi Cohen Hayashida, of Auburn, leads a closing song to end a rally Wednesday in the plaza between the Burton M. Cross State Office Building and Maine State House in Augusta.

• To terminate the policy giving Immigration and Customs Enforcement access to fingerprint and background information on sponsors of the immigrant children for enforcement purposes; and

• Assure that all child detainees receive services accorded under the Flores settlement.

A total of 163 faith leaders from across the state signed a petition they submitted with their requests to Maine’s federal representatives.

Following the rally, the group migrated to Collins’s office, where they spoke with her representative, Mark Winter.

After listening to their appeal, he explained that Collins agreed with a lot of the group’s views and that she was opposed to the separation that was occurring. 

“She wants to get a lot more funding for the immigration courts so all of those asylum claims can be heard quickly,” Winter said.

The faith leaders asked rally participants to follow up with the leaders in one week on their requests. Rev. Peggy Schnack, of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Brunswick, plans to ask members of her congregation to sign a petition asking leaders to hear requests made at the rally.

“They are a socially minded community who likes to know what’s going on,” she said.

Sherry Beck-Poland, of Lewiston, an adoptive parent of two teenagers she first fostered, took aim at the Trump’s leadership.

“This administration has taken too many people away from their families,” she said.

Beck-Poland will be in Florida on vacation later in the month, and she hopes to visit the Homestead center.

Other groups taking part in the rally included Moral Movement Maine, Maine Council of Churches Maine Poor People’s Campaign, Winthrop Area Ministerial Association and Castine Compassionate Coalition.

The Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill talks to a smartphone as he starts the Facebook Live broadcast of the rally Wednesday in the plaza between the Burton M. Cross State Office Building and Maine State House in Augusta.

Abigail Austin — 621-5631
[email protected]
Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ

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