Texas Imam Omar Suleiman: “Families Belong Together, Not in Jail”

On Saturday, June 30th, Los Angeles showed up for immigrant families across the country. An unprecedented crowd of 70,000 rallied at City Hall because they believe #FamiliesBelongTogether. They rallied for the rights of over 2000 migrant children (and counting), including an infant, being held in detention camps across the nation. Separated from their parents, the children are sitting in literal cages lining “glass and tire” warehouses.

Organizations like RAICES and the ACLU are waging legal battles to reunite the children with their parents, adults who are typically deported back to the violence they fled in their home countries, denied asylum despite valid indications of fearful situations back home. So far, 500 of the originally 2300 unaccompanied migrant children have been reunited with their parents, according to the Associated Press. This month a California federal judge ordered that the children be reunited with their parents within 30 days, in response to Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy.

One of the speakers who addressed the crowd was Imam Omar Suleiman, an scholar from Dallas, Texas, who carried with him a strong “message of unity.” Imam Suleiman represented the Muslim contingent group at the rally, organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Greater Los Angeles Chapter (CAIR-LA).

“The US separates children from families all the time, with drones, bullets, and these detention centers,” said Suleiman. “We have to resist that. We are one human family. Keep our human family together.”

Although a religious leader, or rather because he is a religious leader, Suleiman is not afraid to ‘get his white thobe dirty’ in the fight for political justice. At 6’5”, Suleiman was the only protester tall enough to reach the (soundproof and tinted) windows of a bus filled with migrant children, a tender moment in which Suleiman held his hand to the hands of children being separated from their families, at a detention center in Texas. He compared the difficult situation of these children to those in the Syrian refugee camps, and stated that while the Syrian children in camps are allowed to at least communicate and connect with visitors, migrant children in the U.S. are not even allowed to speak to reporters.

Although CAIR-LA is primarily combatting the U.S. Supreme Court’s marginal decision to allow the Muslim Ban, they encouraged Muslim Americans to attend the “Families Belong Together: Freedom for Immigrants” rally and march. CAIR-LA co-sponsored the rally because they believe that “families belong together, not in jail.”

CAIR-LA members, like policy manager Asmaa Ahmed, are fundraising and protesting to fight the Muslim Ban, which denies people from war-torn countries like Syria and Yemen from entering the US. Last week they held a community forum with ACLU to discuss the ban.

I was proud to be a part of the movement fighting for children’s justice, myself. Although I marched with the Muslim contingent, as a Mexican- American, I have personal ties to the child migrant issue. Regardless of heritage, however, this issue should be important to all citizens and residents of this country because it’s a “threat to American values,” explains Suleiman.

Suleiman hoped the rally would show people not to be complacent. For those moderate Americans that sympathize but are not yet actively voicing their concerns to the government, Suleiman implores us to continually “confront” them with the painful events that are taking place, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did at Selma. He reminded us that Trump bans immigrants from “shithole” countries as he calls them, which are partly in that condition because the US keeps “defecating” on them.

Other speakers included Melody Minuet Klingenfuss, a youth organizer for CHIRLA and the California Dream Network, who, as an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant, said she represented the young children in the camps; and Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo.

After marching with the crowd down Main Street from Central to Broadway, my legs ached and my throat was parched. But as I cooled off with a cup of water, I wondered if the kids in the detention center were able to do the same. We showed up at the rally to be their voice. And with 70,000 attendees, Los Angeles roared.

[Photo Credit: Samar Hadrous]