Long a center for civil and human rights activism, Houston’s Rothko Chapel trains its eye on the immigrant crisis unfolding across the U.S.—Mexico border with a special community gathering Tuesday evening.
“Feeling as an institution that this was one of the key human rights issues at the moment, we were really questioning how we could best support the people on the front lines doing this work and how we could potentially serve as a forum for this discussion,” says Ashley Clemmer, the organization's director of programs and community engagement.
In late May, news broke about the thousands of child immigrants separated from their parents upon arrival at the border. The United Nations urged the U.S. to “immediately halt” the separations, calling it a human rights violation, and after waves of backlash from both the public and many world leaders, the Trump administration ended the policy and ordered the reunification of families by last Tuesday. That deadline, however, was not met. Reports of uncomfortable conditions and children cleaning toilets continue to emerge.
Tuesday’s Rothko Chapel event, titled "Immigration and Family Separation Crisis: A Call to Understand, Connect and Act," will provide first-hand accounts of the immigration crisis from Houston-area legal service providers, such as the Tahirih Justice Center—a non-profit that protects immigrant women and children from violence—the American Bar Association Children’s Immigration Law Academy—a legal resource center for those representing children in immigration proceedings—and the Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance of Catholic Charities—an organization that provides legal services to those who wouldn’t be able to obtain help otherwise. Houston Chronicle reporter Lomi Kriel will also share her widely cited coverage of the crisis.
One key point they will communicate is the differences among detention centers. Some adult-only facilities “are jail basically, they feel like prison,” says Kate Vickery, executive director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative. Then there are detention facilities for unaccompanied children that provide a short-term holding facility until they get reunited with their families. These are the locations where authorities forbid children from hugging one another.
Vickery says she hopes to talk about the policy of family separation and what the future will be like now that the most recent policy has ended. “It's important to understand that families have been separated at the border as a deterrent for seeking asylum for years,” she says.
It's also important, says Vickery, to put these events in a larger context.
“We feel very strongly," she says, "that that is the wrong policy agenda for the United States to be taking at a time when there are more people displaced around the world and seeking asylum in countries of refuge than at any other point in global history."
Tuesday, July 17 at 7 p.m. Free. Rothko Chapel, 3900 Yupon St. More info and registration at rothkochapel.org.