SAN DIEGO (CN) – On the 55th anniversary of his father’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King III made a “call to conscience” at the U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday to reunite all families separated under the “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
Flanked by his wife Arndrea Waters King and 10-year-old daughter Yolanda Renee – who addressed the crowd in Spanish – King invoked his father’s famous Civil Rights speech at the March on Washington in his own call for humane immigration policies.
“The cause of human rights for refugees and immigrants is very much in keeping with the dream my father Martin Luther King, Jr. shared with the world and America 55 years ago today at the great March on Washington,” King said.
“The unfair and unjust treatment of innocent immigrant men, women and children through legal pretense violates the principles enumerated in the dream speech which we commemorate today,” he added.
King has carried on his father’s torch through his work with nonprofits and organizations that promote the nonviolent conflict resolution strategies employed by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other activists during the Civil Rights movement.
King said his father’s “leadership was all about tearing down walls.”
“There was no room for building walls in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream,” King said.
While addressing a crowd of about 200, King made parallels between the racial segregation Civil Rights activists fought against and the since-abandoned “zero tolerance” immigration policy enacted by President Donald Trump that separated nearly 3,000 immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Our refugee and immigration policies must also be humane, fair and free from all forms of bigotry and rivalry, and we must have zero tolerance for caging children and separating families at the border,” King said. He added that he was “shaken to his very core” when he found out the government was detaining immigrant children separated from their families.
“A great democracy does not bully the most vulnerable among us and it does not separate children from their parents,” King said.
He noted, “Our work is not done here because many of these children are still separated from their families.”
“We cannot rest until all of the children are reunited with their loved ones,” King said.
San Diego has been at the crux of the controversy surrounding the “zero tolerance” immigration policy –lawsuits challenging family separation have been consolidated on District Judge Dana Sabraw’s docket in the Southern District of California.
Sabraw ordered all families separated under “zero tolerance” to be reunited by July 26, but the government missed that deadline.
As of last Thursday, 528 children still remained separated from their parents and in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The majority – 343 – were the children of parents who had been deported without them.
Sabraw has ordered the Justice Department to work with the American Civil Liberties Union – which is representing the separated families – to find the deported parents and reunite them with their children.
King questioned on Tuesday how current immigration practices are “treating our most precious resources.”
He also called for a path to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which was created for young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as children, often referred to as “dreamers.”
“As we join in commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, let’s remember the hundreds of thousands of young people known as dreamers who have been left in political limbo,” King said.
“These young people who are Americans in every way except on paper just want a chance to show they can make their contribution to our society like everyone else. It is right and just that dreamers be provided that opportunity.”
Civil rights organization Alliance San Diego hosted Tuesday’s event.