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A group protesting the current U.S. policy of separating children from families attempting to cross the border gathered outside Senator James Lankford’s OKC offices Monday.

Protesters called the policy “egregious,” “torture,” “a violation of human rights,” and “the height of evil.”

And Native Americans at the protest said the policy was “not something new” and that it was “the history of this country.”

“Child abuse”

“Immigration policy has not been good for a long time. There were problems under the Obama administration,” organizer Rena Guay told Free Press.

“But, this thing since May, … when the policy got enacted, it’s a violation of human rights,” she said. “It really is child abuse. It’s torture.”

Federal policy

The protest was against the current federal policy of separating children from their families when the families attempt to cross the border illegally.

Current administration officials have said that the law binds them to carry out the practice, but previous administrations under the same laws have had different policies that kept families together.

The group was advocating for the Senator to support S. 3036, a bill by California Senator Dianne Feinstein that would end the policy of separating children from their parents during legal processing.

Visiting offices

The protest was planned over the weekend, promoted on Facebook, and staged from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. by a group that had some members there the whole time and others who came and went. Organizers said the group was as large as 60 before noon.

When Free Press was present at noon there were about 20 still remaining and others arriving.

Protesters maintain positions by Sen James Lankford's OKC offices
Protesters maintained positions in front of Sen James Lankford’s OKC offices for three hours. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Small groups of protesters took turns going up to Lankford’s offices on the third floor at 1015 N. Broadway to talk with staff and ask them to relay their concerns to the Senator.

“They wouldn’t even take our names,” said Mary Eastman when her group came back down and rejoined the protest. “They didn’t have a sign-in sheet or anything.”

Leslie Bonebreak, candidate for HD 53 in Moore, was at the protest for the duration and was in an earlier group that went up to Lankford’s offices to express their objections to the policy.

“There was a man who came and talked to us and started mansplaining that immigration is very complex,” said Bonebreak.

“Doing harm to children by separating them from their parents is not complex,” she added. “I have my child here with me today and if someone took him to a jail he would never be the same person again.”

Apache Stronghold members gather next to the protest
Members of the traveling Apache Stronghold group arrived to pray for the situation of separating children. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Another protester, Linda Deibel, said she came down from Edmond to protest because she considers the policy “an egregious thing for our country to be doing.”

Rev. Bobby Griffith, one of two pastors for City Pres Church, a progressive Presbyterian Christian congregation in midtown, was out for the protest, too.

“What is happening with separation of children from their families is immoral,” said Griffith. “And, putting children in cages is the height of evil.”

Native American protesters

Duke Romero was on the flanks of the protest after stopping by on what he described as a “spiritual journey.”

Duke Romero - Apache Stronghold member
Duke Romero in the Apache Stronghold group said separating children is a part of U.S. history going all the way back to boarding schools for Native Americans. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

He is part of a group that calls itself “Apache Stronghold: Spiritual Fleet” who are on their way across the country from California and heading to Washington, D.C. for the Poor People’s Campaign Rally there June 23.

He said those who were part of the Apache Stronghold team were not there to protest, but to “pray for people.”

Romero placed the current policy of separating children from their parents in the context of the larger history of the United States.

Asdzaa Tsosi - Navaho - Came to the protest to show her objection to the child separations.
Asdzaa Tsosi – Navaho – Came to the protest to show her objection to the child separations. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

“It’s something that’s been the history of this country. It happened to our people with the boarding schools,” said Romero.

“So, this is not the first time something like this has happened. The history of trauma comes with those things — separating children.”

Lankford response

Senator Lankford was not available for Free Press to ask him questions directly, but Aly Beley, spokesperson for the Senator, did send a prepared statement through email.

“Senator Lankford does not support the separation of families at the border. Senator Lankford has been and continues to work with the Administration and his colleagues in the Senate to protect families and the US border.”

Beley said Lankford has not agreed to co-sponsor Feinstein’s bill.

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