U.S. Children Demand the Release of Migrant Kids Held in Federal Custody

A group of children in the U.S. are calling on the government to release immigrant kids and families held under federal custody amid the coronavirus pandemic, warning that their health and safety is being put at risk.

In a video published online calling on Americans to push their elected officials to take action, children share a message of solidarity with detained kids and families in the U.S., assuring them: "We want you to know that you do have friends in America and you do have people that love and care about you."

"Now, more than ever, during this time of COVID, we know how important it is that you are with your families, safe, healthy and free," they say, adding: "We are still fighting for you."

Indeed, the two schoolchildren behind the project, Lillian Ellis, 11, and Kaia Marbin, 12, have been fighting to see detained children released for more than a year now.

After hearing about how children were being detained in facilities across the country last year in June, they began an initiative now known as "The Butterfly Effect," a project that has seen them and other activists in California's San Francisco Bay Area create more than 50,000 origami butterflies to represent the "beauty of migration."

"Butterflies represent that migration is beautiful," Marbin told Newsweek in a phone interview. "If you have to leave your home because you're running from something, like war, I wouldn't want that to happen to anybody, but we should be welcoming of people and not turning people away."

While the project started more than a year ago, Marbin and Ellis said that in the wake of pandemic, they felt driven to issue a renewed call demanding the release of detained children and families.

Recently, it came to light that many children and families are being detained in hotels across the country amid the pandemic, with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) being forced to relocate detained children from a Hampton Inn location in McAllen, Texas, after facing a widespread backlash for holding kids there.

The hotel told Newsweek at the time that it had made the decision to cancel its booking with a private contractor for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency after it discovered the true "nature" of the "government business we had booked."

Ellis told Newsweek she believes families should be released from detention, particularly because of the serious risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Both Ellis and Marbin said that were it not for immigration, they would not be able to call themselves Americans.

"My grandma on my mother's side, her parents immigrated from Poland and Russia to England and had her there and then my grandma came to [study] on a J-1 visa and that's where she met my grandpa," Ellis said.

Meanwhile, Marbin's grandparents emigrated from India after feeling forced to leave the country so that they could be together. They had fallen in love, but their relationship was condemned as they were born into different castes.

If she could say anything to detained children right now, Marbin said it would be: "We're here for you."

"We're fighting for you and we care about you," Ellis added.

Newsweek has contacted the DHS for comment.

The Butterfly Effect
Children speak out in a new video calling for the government to release detained migrant children amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Butterfly Effect