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Del. Ken Plum: Isolating the Children

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The federal administration policy of breaking up families as an intentional strategy aimed at refugee families has shocked the conscience of most Americans. Taking innocent children out of the arms of their mothers or fathers and shuffling them off to a “facility” without any explanation or known plans for their future has to be one of the cruelest acts of the federal government ever and is completely abhorrent to the moral standards of most Americans.

At the same time we condemn these evil acts of a misdirected federal agency and work in every way in the courts and through the ballot box to get these policies changed, it is important that the subject of isolating children be viewed in its larger context. As more is learned about the traumatic effects separation and isolation can have on the future emotional stability, mental health, and behavior of children, the necessity of reforming the way that our juvenile justice system functions becomes obvious.

Information gathered by The Commonwealth Institute shows that almost three-quarters of youth who have been held in the state’s juvenile prisons are convicted of another crime within three years of release. Data shows the longer a child is held in a facility the more likely it is they will commit a crime.

I recently talked with Valerie Slater who heads RISE for Youth: United Families, Safe Communities on my television show “Virginia Report.” Listen to that conversation on YouTube. She points out that racial disparities in Virginia’s juvenile system are higher than the national average. In Virginia, black youth are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers, and youth of Latino heritage are 2½ times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers. Likewise, the higher the rate of poverty in their community the more likely children are to be sent to youth prisons. As Valerie wrote recently, “we must dismantle, once and for all, the systems that allow the institutionalization of children. The best way to protect and rehabilitate children is to ensure their parents are the foundation of their support, whether in their homes, communities or suitable community-based environments. There are community-based alternatives to youth prisons that work better, cost less, and help young people get the support they need to get back on track.”

At the recent meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) I learned of the important work being done by a committee in NCSL to identify the principles that states should adhere to in reforming their juvenile justice systems. It is being demonstrated in states that it is possible to reform the system to reduce crime and recidivism, enhance public safety, and produce good citizens from those who in the past may have been referred to as criminals. I am pleased that Virginia is making improvements, but we must stay vigilant to continue progress.

As a nation of high moral standards, we must insist that the youngest and most vulnerable among us have an opportunity to succeed even if they are in our poorest communities or seeking asylum for their safety among us.

File photo

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Reston Student Organizes Lemonade Stand to Support Separated Immigrant Families

It’s no surprise lemonade stands manned by elementary or middle school students pop in the area in the summer. But one lemonade stand in Reston this weekend, operated by Emaan Rawn, 7, was a little different.

The second-grade student at Al-Fatih Academy in Reston raised $505 to help separated immigrant families. The stand is part of a national effort dubbed “Kids Take a Stand,” run through the activist group Lawyer Moms of America. Funds will be used to help reunify families separated at the border following the Trump administration’s since-reversed family separation policy. Although roughly 1,400 children have been reunited with their families, others remain in government custody. 

Rawn was inspired to put up a stand when she saw her mother reading a news story about families separated at the border. Wondering how she would respond and if she would be able to take care of her brother in a similar situation, Rawn explored the idea of sending children toys or video games to the children.

When her mother Mahwish Hamlani heard of the lemonade stand initiative, Rawn was excited about the idea. She set up a stand at the intersection of Autumn Crest Drive and West Ox Road on Saturday from 9-11 a.m.

Hamlani said the experience was humbling for her daughter, who is a third-generation immigrant. 

Her grandparents left their home countries amid political turmoil in pursuit of safety and stability. Her parents availed educational and career opportunities to give Emaan and her brother the financial security that they enjoy. Everyone deserves a chance at the American Dream – regardless of their religion or place of birth.”

Funds from lemonade stand sales will go to Project Corazon. Thus far, the initiative has raised more than $20,000.

Photos by Mahwish Hamlani

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Religious Groups to Host Interfaith ‘Families Belong Together’ Vigil

The United Christian Parish (11508 North Shore Drive) will host an interfaith vigil in support of the national “Families Belong Together” campaign tomorrow. 

A rally is scheduled for Saturday in the District in order demand the reunification of families and the end of family separation in detention.

In Reston, organizers hope Friday’s event will “shine a light of truth and hope.” The event is open to all and is organized by United Christian Parish Reston, Unitarian Universalist Reston, Washington Plaza Baptist, Shoreshim, Unity Fairfax, ADAMS Center, MCC NOVA, and others.

“The vigil is very important as we join together to light candles of hope and resistant to unjust and inhumane policies that separate families [and] put children, immigrants, and asylum seekers into cages,” said James Dean, co-chair of UCP’s justice and peace ministry team.

“Some of us can’t march, but we can gather together as part of this interfaith vigil,” Dean said.

Organizers of the national campaign issued the following description of the event:

The Trump Administration is a threat to the lives and safety of millions of immigrant children. Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have torn babies from their mothers, run over, punched, and sexually abused children and Health and Human Services have lost track of thousands of children and youth in their custody. They are unfit to be in charge of children.

We demand that Trump’s immigration agencies stop the implementation of any policy that separates children and youth from their families and that the Administration enlist qualified social service agencies to ensure the well-being of children who are still in their custody or have gone missing.

Photo via UCP

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Del. Ken Plum: Keep Families Together

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now

Last week I joined with nearly fifty of my colleagues in the House of Delegates in signing a joint letter to all the Virginia senators and representatives in the United States Congress about “our outrage at the cruel and systematic separation of immigrant children and their families at the U.S. border with Mexico.”

While immigration issues are mainly federal responsibility, the actions on the part of the current administration have been so horrendous that we felt an obligation to speak out. We asked our Virginia delegation to intercede with the administration to cease the policy and to reunite the children involved with their families without delay.

Since our letter there have been some pronouncements from the administration about changes in the policy, but it remains entirely unclear what will happen with the thousands of children who have already been separated from their families and are being held in mass facilities that seem more like prisons than homes.

It is equally unclear as to whether a continuation of a zero-tolerance policy on border entry will simply replace prisons for children with adult prisons. I am pleased that Governor Ralph Northam has withdrawn the use of any Virginia National Guard forces from being involved in implementing this inhumane program.

The politics of building fear of immigrants to further political goals stinks as does the attempted use of children as pawns to bargain for a disastrously conceived wall with our neighbors. Beyond the politics are the long-term human rights issues that many thought and most hoped America was beyond. The negative long-term impact on the children involved cannot be over-looked or not addressed. Nor can the impact be underestimated of sending people back to a country from which they were seeking asylum in fear for their lives.

Earlier this month, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) along with 540 other organizations wrote to the administration as part of the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign stating their opposition to actions that would separate children from their parents. As NAEYC stated it, “There are no ends that justify these means.”

The organization that is well respected for its research on the education of young children went on to state, “The research is clear, and so are our core values…We have an obligation to create and advance policy solutions that support child well-being and strengthen the bonds between all children and their families.”

Part of that research has found the traumatic impact of separation on young children can negatively impact them for the rest of their lives. As NAEYC said, “You don’t have to be either a parent or an educator to understand that separating children from their families–and putting them in a place where they cannot be hugged, touched, or loved–causes harm. And not the kind of harm that is easily repaired. This is the kind of harm that is significant and long-lasting, interfering with positive child development and well-being.”

Please take some time and join me in expressing to the administration our opposition to their policies and actions on immigration.

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Del. Ken Plum: We Should Know Better

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

A Kentucky school administrator recently expressed sentiments that I feel but could not write as clearly as she did. In an op-ed piece in the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader she wrote:

“Social justice, civil discourse, empathy, historical context and civic engagement are at the heart of preventing and resolving instances like the one we witnessed there (in Charlottesville). … If we subscribe to the belief that hate is a learned behavior, we must also take ownership for failing to provide an educational space to combat the inequality that haunts minorities every day and that paralyzes our nation in times of tragedy. … History matters. Civic engagement matters. And, because of their decline, social justice, civil discourse, and empathy have become lost arts in a nation of people who can no longer talk to one another.”

As a former teacher of history and government, I especially appreciated her call for “a strong social studies curriculum that provides equitable opportunities for civic engagement, civil discourse and historical context.”

The ignorance of history shown by those who have been leading the opposition to removing Confederate statues is appalling. The statues were erected during times when white supremacy efforts termed the “Lost Cause” were at their strongest. Beginning in the late 19th century there were many movements to glorify the Old South and to justify the Civil War, or the “War of Northern Aggression” as they called it, and the erection of statues was part of it. Paralleling those activities was the passage of legislation that virtually took away the right of African Americans to vote and that separated the races in public schools and most every aspect of society. The second surge of erecting statues came when the white supremacists were opposing the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

Viewed in their historic context, these statutes represented a repression of social justice, failure of civil discourse and lack of empathy on the part of those supporting them.

Equally as appalling is the lack of knowledge or the unwillingness to admit the central role that immigrants have played in our history. The history of the land we now call Virginia did not begin when the English arrived in 1607; a civilization existed here for at least 15,000 years before that time. That makes all of us except for Native Americans descendant of immigrants.

There is seldom a day that passes that I do not meet someone who may be brand new or first- or second-generation Americans who are making our communities, society and economy stronger and better. Many choose to ignore the history of immigrants especially most recently that of dependent children. They may be undocumented, but they are not “illegals” — people are not illegal.

Certainly, our immigration system needs work. Endless paperwork, complex bureaucracy and an entanglement of laws sometime stand in the way of people who should be given a path to citizenship that can be navigated. I thought that Richard Cohen, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, expressed it best when he said of the decision to rescind DACA that it was “one of the most senseless, heartless, inhumane acts of any president in recent memory.”

We should know better and certainly we must insist that all act better!

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Virginia’s Senators, Rep. Connolly Denounce Trump Decision to End DACA Policy

An announcement Tuesday morning from the Trump Administration that it will be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy has elicited spirited response from Virginia’s Democratic delegation in Congress.

DACA, implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012, allows nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants living in the United States to apply for renewable two-year visas. It is available to individuals who arrived in the United States before the year 2007 who were under the age of 16 at the time of arrival and under the age of 31 at the time of implementation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement Tuesday morning on behalf of the Administration. Afterward, both of Virginia’s senators released statements of outrage on their Twitter accounts. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) says the decision is “heartless.”

The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act has been introduced several times in Congress in recent years. The current version was introduced in July by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). It would institute a multi-phase process for qualifying alien minors (so-called “DREAMers”) in the United States that would first grant conditional residency and, upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), in his statement, said DACA is a “promise” that has allowed children of undocumented immigrants to “realize their full potential.”

In a statement released following Sessions’ remarks, President Donald Trump said DACA has “helped spur a humanitarian crisis — the massive surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America including, in some cases, young people who would become members of violent gangs throughout our country, such as MS-13.”

The decades-long failure of Washington, D.C. to enforce federal immigration law has had both predictable and tragic consequences: lower wages and higher unemployment for American workers, substantial burdens on local schools and hospitals, the illicit entry of dangerous drugs and criminal cartels, and many billions of dollars a year in costs paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Yet few in Washington expressed any compassion for the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system. Before we ask what is fair to illegal immigrants, we must also ask what is fair to American families, students, taxpayers, and jobseekers.

Trump said existing work permits will be honored until their date of expiration. He also said that applications already in the pipeline will still be processed, and so will renewal applications for those facing near-term expiration.

“This is a gradual process, not a sudden phase out,” the President said. “Permits will not begin to expire for another six months, and will remain active for up to 24 months.”

In his statement on the decision to end the program, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) says it is a “moral outrage” that attacks people who have been “creating jobs, serving in our military [and] teaching our children.”

In Richmond, Gov. Terry McAuliffe also said the decision is “an attack on the fabric of our nation [that] makes us less safe and hurts our economy.”

Trump said that “enforcement priorities [will] remain unchanged, and that he has “advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang.”

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