WATERVILLE — Not all mothers get to spend Mother’s Day with their children.

Four speakers reminded a crowd of this at the “Mother’s Day Rally to End Family Separation and Child Detention” on Sunday. Close to 50 people gathered by Waterville’s Head of Falls on the sunny afternoon to raise awareness for the immigration laws that organizer Mary Dunn called “human rights abuses.” The event was one of 20 held nationally and the only in the state of Maine.

“What a wonderful thing for mothers and children to do today,” Dunn, an Oakland resident, said to open the event. “We’re here together today to remember the mothers and children that try to come across our southern borders and who have been separated — and are still separated.”

Organizer Mary Dunn became emotional Sunday at the closing of a Mother’s Day rally in Waterville to end family separation and child detention immigration policies. At left is speaker Dianne Dicranian. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

She said preventing families from seeking asylum within our borders is “breaking international law” and that the way the United States treats immigrants “adds to … their trauma.”

“They are fleeing incredible violence that we are privileged enough not to understand, … or they’re fleeing the effects of climate change on their crops and the poverty that it’s causing,” she told the audience. “They flee thousands of miles to get to a place where they have family members and life is better … and we send them to (Mexico) where they don’t know anybody.”

She called for the closure of a for-profit migrant child detention center in Homestead, Florida, where roughly 3,200 children and teens are being held in a facility originally designed for 850 people.

“They put (the) Homestead (detention center) on federal property so they do not have to follow the rules and regulations of child welfare laws,” Dunn claimed Sunday. “Being on federal land, they are able to keep children longer. They are able to keep them without working with the Department of Health and Human Services in Florida. They are able to hire teachers who are not teachers. They are able to hire workers who do not have to go through any background checks or fingerprinting.”

Dunn also called for an end to separating families at the southern border and urged that money “be released” to hire more immigration lawyers and judges in order to process incoming families faster.

“People are being hurt,” a teary-eyed Dunn said. “We have to speak out because this is wrong, and I fear it’s only the beginning.”

Fowsia Musse, a Somali immigrant, shared her personal experience moving to the United States alone in the 1990s. Musse is the executive director of Maine Community Integration. Before she moved to the U.S., Musse’s family fled to Ethiopia to avoid a war and dictatorship in Somalia.

Fowsia Musse, a Somalian from the Lewiston area, spoke Sunday during the Mother’s Day rally in Waterville to end family separation and child detention immigration policies. Dianne Dicranian, left, and Michelle Geaghan also spoke. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“My mother and I got separated because of the war,” Musse explained. “My mom and my siblings fled by foot … it took them 30 days to get to Ethiopia. My mother and I didn’t see each other for one year. So when I tell you I know something about family separation — I am one of those kids. I have not seen my siblings or my parents since 1995.”

She said that America’s constitution “promises things no other country does,” which draws in many who are seeking asylum. Despite thinking freedom of speech would allow her and other immigrants to “be whoever you want to be,” Musse noted that many are instead told to follow, conform and assimilate once they arrive.

“As somebody who was born in Somalia — a corrupted country where there were no rights, especially (for) women, and gender violence was the norm — I can tell you America has a lot of beautiful laws that protect people if they want to be, but we can do better.”

Michelle Geaghan, who volunteers on her own to help recent immigrants and migrant farm workers settle in central Maine, described the kinds of stories she has heard from others traveling to the United States for safety. Many, she said, are single mothers from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, who take a relative’s child northward with them because “it increases the opportunity to be granted asylum.” She enumerated the series of regulations immigrants face over the first five years in the country. She also urged the crowd to empathize with the pain these single mothers experience, knowing that after they leave their home countries, their own children and remaining relatives face increased danger. Members of Central American mafias demand a cut of the income from the mother in the U.S. — a portion Geaghan said usually grows by the day — in order to ensure the safety of her family. When those other family members try to join their U.S.-based family, children risk being intercepted at the border and detained “in cages, just like a dog.”

Diane Dicranian, a Quaker activist, described what happened when she attended an interfaith San Diego protest against the detention of migrant children in December.

“When the 300 people in faith I was with attempted to approach the wall, we were met with militarized border patrol, sheriffs (and) police, and they were backed by a long line of military,” she said. “Armored vehicles, drones, concertina wire, a tank, three ships in the water. … The thing is that we were clergy and faith leaders, and we were physically pushed back by these people … three feet at a time with tear gas canisters, grenades and automatic weapons.”

Liz McMahon helps kids make prayer flags and friendship bracelets Sunday during a Mother’s Day rally in Waterville to end family separation and child detention immigration policies. Kids, from left, are Riviera Hernandez, her sister India and Thresia Reddy. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Even some of the youngest people who turned out to the rally said they understood the weight of the crisis at the border.

“It’s really wrong because everyone should be with their parents because they help them lead and they help them get into their adult age” said Riviera Hernandez, a 10-year-old from Waterville. “Some people can’t be with their parents so they don’t learn their lessons. And there are people who can’t be with their parents on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, and it’s just really sad. So if you hope and if you try and you stand up, then it can really get you somewhere, and it can really help.”

Hernandez was one of several to decorate a canvas-colored flag that would be sent to Amnesty International, which has been protesting outside of the Homestead child detention facility. Hernandez drew a tree with the words: “If you try, seeds of hope become trees.”

Elsewhere, before and after the speeches, people contributed drawings and words of encouragement on a large paper banner. This too will be mailed to protesters in Florida.

“It’s my understanding that the kids (at Homestead) can see the signs,” said Mindy Bergeron-Lawrence, a Winslow resident who was helping Dunn with the event. “It says ‘I love you,’ in Spanish.”

Harry Vigue played the harpsichord in the gazebo by the Two Cent Bridge for those who attended the rally Sunday. Cornerstone Farm in Palmyra also donated 120 seedlings for attendees to plant and gift to their mothers.

Linda Woods, of Waterville, who turned out on Sunday, said what is happening at the border troubles her even though she does not have kids of her own.

“I’m not a parent, but I do understand the strong bond that occurs between parent and children,” she said. “I was a teacher forever, and I know how children need that security of familiarity and comfort. I’ve watched children go through divorce and loss of parents, and that was just devastating. I can’t even imagine how (family separations) must be.”

After the event, Dunn said it is important for people to call and write to Sen. Angus King, Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Chellie Pingree and Rep. Jared Golden.

“They can at least co-sponsor bills to shut down the Homestead detention center,” Dunn noted. “They’ve been eerily silent on this issue.”


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