(CN) – The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and 48 women’s organizations said at an event Wednesday that they have sent a letter to Congress demanding reform of Trump administration immigration policies that separate immigrant children from their detained parents.
Members of the caucus and the groups spoke at a public event to criticize the Trump administration policies they said harm women, children and immigrant families generally by removing children from their parents and putting immigrants in inadequate detention centers.
The public rebuke came after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the government would refer “100 percent of illegal southwest border crossings” to the Justice Department for prosecution, including immigrants who brought their children.
“If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you,” Sessions said at a press conference. “It’s that simple.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended the new policy, but said at a hearing Tuesday that the administration has “taken steps and we will continue to strengthen what our partners do to protect these children.”
However, Nielsen echoed Sessions by saying that the policy is “if you break the law, we prosecute you.”
“You have an option to go to a port of entry and not illegally cross into our country,” she said during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a coalition of women’s organizations took issue with Sessions and Nielsen’s characterization of the new policy.
Several speakers on Wednesday, including Katharina Obser with the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Migrant Rights and Justice program, criticized what they called the Trump administration’s disregard for why women, particularly those with children, flee their native countries to seek asylum in the United States.
“We have documented with horror and dismay as this administration has systematically dismantled this country’s systems to protect those who are fleeing persecution and harm,” Obser said during the event. “In particular, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice seem intent on targeting women who are often facing unimaginable gender-based and gang violence at home and who flee to protect the lives of their children.”
The event was held the same day as an immigration roundtable hosted by President Donald Trump, during which he said the U.S. has “the worst immigration laws of any country, anywhere in the world.” Trump’s comments come a week after he referred to some people who cross the border illegally as “animals.”
Wednesday’s speakers, composed entirely of women, including minorities, consistently criticized the Trump administration’s choice to remove immigrant children from their detained parents.
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said that immigration authorities had separated 700 children from their parents at the southern border since October, and more than 100 of those children were under 4 years old.
Jennifer Podkul, an attorney for Kids in Need of Defense, highlighted that the new immigration policies could create new problems.
“This administration is creating an unaccompanied children crisis. These children have loving parents doing everything in their power to protect them, but our government is instead taking them away and putting them in federal detention facilities and military bases,” Podkul said. “I condemn these attacks on families’ children.”
The groups also blasted the Trump administration’s allegedly insufficient ability to care for detained women who were pregnant when they arrived at the border.
Isabel Solis, a member of women’s organization Moms Rising, said that her sister was detained at an immigration facility in San Diego, Calif., for six weeks last summer while she was pregnant, and officials provided no prenatal care besides Tylenol for pain and cramps.
Additionally, Solis said that her sister was forced to do hard labor with chemicals that “made her feel ill.”
“My sister, like many women in detention, didn’t have a criminal record,”
Solis said. “She is a hard-working and devoted mother, and yet she was treated like a hardened criminal, denied basic medical care and separated from her children.”
The new immigration policy directives coincide with the Trump administration’s consideration about squeezing immigrants, including those in the U.S.
legally, out of using public programs for basic necessities.
Anna Chu with the National Women’s Law Center said the administration is considering a “public charge rule” that would expand which public programs would count against immigrants who might need public assistance when applying for citizenship.
“We’re talking about programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, [the Women, Infants and Children program], which helps provide nutrition assistance for babies and their mothers, Medicaid and much more,” Chu said.
Members of the coalition had harsh words for the Trump administration – “outrage,” “inhumane,” “draconian” and “trauma” were all used Wednesday by various speakers in response to the new immigration policies.
“What you’re seeing today is outrage,” U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., said during the event.
Grisham added that the U.S. is “enacting another trauma after those harrowing journeys to come to this country.”
She suggested that legislative action and activism was necessary to reverse the new iteration of federal rules for the sake of immigrant families.
“Let’s give these families what they expected when they got here,” Grisham said.