MARYVILLE, Mo. — Members of the First Presbyterian Church of Maryville staged a write-your-congressman drive Wednesday designed to express opposition to a federal immigration policy that led to the separation of hundreds of children from their parents as often-undocumented families sought to enter the United States from Mexico.
The separation policy is no longer in effect, having been struck down in federal court. But this summer the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform reported that more than 700 children were separated from their parents after the policy's official end.
In May 2019, the administration of President Donald Trump acknowledged that at least 1,700 migrant children may have been separated from their parents even before a "zero tolerance" border-crossing policy was implemented in April 2018.
This past June, an inspection of a Clint, Texas, detainment center used to hold separated infants, children and teenagers found young people and babies locked up without adequate food, bedding, soap, toothpaste or clean clothing.
Richard Fulton, a retired Northwest Missouri State University political science professor who helped organize this week's write-in effort, said he believes hundreds of children are still being held, and that a lack of record-keeping means it may be impossible to reunite many of them with their families, whose whereabouts are unknown.
He added that a climate of secrecy surrounding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — known as ICE — and other federal agencies means the total number of children separated from their parents, and the number of children still in custody, has been impossible to determine.
Fulton's wife, Karen, also a retired scholar, said she, her husband and other church members organized the write-in effort, titled “Putting Kids in Cages is Wrong,” in response to what she sees as a humanitarian crisis and a violation of the federal law allowing citizens from other nations fleeing persecution to seek asylum in the U.S.
A third organizer, also a First Presbyterian member, was Pamella Petersen.
“The fact is that it's just too incredibly cruel to put children in cages,” Karen Fulton said. “There are more humane solutions to immigration. To me, this is a baseline moral issue.”
People taking part in the write-in campaign were given the opportunity to send postage-paid postcards voicing their disapproval of the separation of migrant children from their families to federal lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves.
Richard Fulton said he wanted to make it clear that Wednesday's effort was non-partisan. Nor does he place blame solely on the Trump administration.
“This is a government problem,” said Fulton, who added that he favors regulated borders so long as would-be immigrants are given the chance to lawfully request asylum. “Congress is just as responsible as the executive.”
Both Fultons said the protest was not sponsored by First Presbyterian but merely organized by church members who were given permission to use the church building, located at the corner of South Main and Jenkins streets.
“There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we are treating these children, and I want to help put a stop to it,” Karen Fulton said.
“People who don't see this as wrong, I don't think they're seeing children. They are seeing something else entirely.
“Once you are able to dehumanize 'the other,' to convince yourself that they are not human beings, then it becomes possible to treat them like an animal, and that's what we're doing.”