Juliza Aguilar was eight months pregnant when she was separated from her husband, Alejandro Cortez, at the southern border of the U.S. in June as the two refugees from El Salvador sought asylum here.
But because of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, Aguilar was forced to leave Cortez behind in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Aguilar made her way to Iowa City, where she gave birth to son Anderson, now 7 months old.
Aguilar and two representatives from the Iowa City Catholic Worker House, Emily Sinnwell and Jane Noble Davies, confronted U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, during Loebsack's "Coffee With Your Congressman" meeting at Hy-Vee, 2900 Devils Glen Road, Bettendorf, on Saturday morning.
The women said they wanted to know why Loebsack had not added his signature to the list of 112 House Democrats who signed a letter addressed to Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, demanding the Remain in Mexico program be stopped and that asylum seekers be granted a fair process.
"I've been working with your staff and not getting responses," Sinnwell said to Loebsack. "You told us you would help; I don't understand why this isn't on your radar. We've been in touch. We've been to your office. We've been asking for help, and we've gone down to the border. I feel really disappointed that you didn't sign the letter."
Loebsack said he wasn't aware of the letter and that he would follow up on it.
"I am more than happy to look at that, and I'm open-minded to doing something," Loebsack said, adding that he does not support Trump's Remain in Mexico policy.
Noble Davies told Loebsack she also was disappointed he didn't sign the letter.
"When I saw your name wasn't on there, I thought, 'Oh, my God, I feel hopeless because you are our hope,' " she said, holding back tears. "I thought you were our hope. Who are we going to turn to? It's not going to be the Republicans — they've all sold their souls.
"(Refugees) need your help," Noble Davies said. "We went to Juarez; we saw people in tents on the border; it was very upsetting. Juliza's husband is one of them. We are your constituents; all we can do is reach out to you."
Sinnwell pressed Loebsack, reminding him he met with them at the Catholic Worker House, where they asked him in person to help.
"What I said was, I would do what I could to help," Loebsack said.
"This is something you can do and you can pay attention when these letters come by," Sinnwell said. "You can stop wasting your staff's time sending us letters from your attorney asking us to stop. We are asking for your help; we are not backing down."
Aguilar, speaking with Sinnwell as her translator, said Cortez's next court date is Feb. 25. Aguilar hopes he will be allowed to enter the United States so they can fight for asylum together instead of as separate cases.
Loebsack said the mass detention of immigrants and refugees at the southern border is wrong.
"I think what the president has done is horrible," Loebsack said. "To put people on the border and keep them there isn't acceptable. There are a lot of ways I can go about trying to change the situation, whether it's a letter or whatever the case may be. We do have to keep in mind this president is doing a number of things that are not the right way to go, if not illegal.
"Not only is (detention) not humanitarian, I don't think it serves America's interests, either. We need a comprehensive immigration reform package."
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