Chattanoogans fearful as children separated from parents at US/Mexico border

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — The U.S. District Court on Georgia Avenue in downtown Chattanooga houses immigration cases for those in the Chattanooga area. But all eyes are on the courts in Texas, as the U.S. Government separates immigrant children from their parents at the border.

Local immigration leaders say this just increases fear among the Hispanic and Latino community in Chattanooga.

“Try staying in Mexico for a couple of days and see how long that last,” President Donald Trump said Tuesday, citing Mexico’s strong immigration laws.

President Trump and his administration has been critical of the immigration practices of the United States since his campaign in 2016.

But now the focus is more specific. Outrage has spread over the entire nation as immigrant children are separated from their parents — a practice effecting even those here in Chattanooga.

“I’ve seen you know kids that are 13 even 14 years old in immigration court in Texas not being allowed to talk to their parents who are here,” immigration lawyer Terry Olsen said.

Olsen says he’s dealt with a handful of cases like this over the last year, which is causing fear throughout the Hispanic and Latino community locally.

“Overall, there’s a lot of fear. There’s just a sense of not wanting to talk to anyone, not wanting to talk to lawyers, even police,” Olsen said.

Leaders at La Paz Chattanooga believe the administration’s policies have a strong emotional impact on the local community.

“I think it’s for everyone who’s here, regardless of whether they’re Latino or Hispanic. I think it’s sadness and frustration that these families are being separated and that children are having to go through the trauma of not having their parents, especially in a situation that they don’t understand,” said Vivian Lozano Sterchi, the director of client services at La Paz.

President Trump is emphasizing the need for immigration reform in order to keep families together.

“I’m not sure what the long term effect will be here for the people of Chattanooga, but I know that for these children and for the families that are going through this now, it’s a long road,” Sterchi said.

Trump spoke Tuesday citing child trafficking as one reason for this controversial practice. He said there are loopholes in the law that need to be closed, and he’s hoping for a bipartisan decision soon.

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