The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported Tuesday that the number of people who crossed the border from Mexico dropped by more than a quarter last month.
That drop coincided with an increase in focus on the conditions faced by immigrants in federal custody.
Arkansans are removed from the debate to a degree by virtue of the state’s distance from the border. But Zachary Prezotti believes that Arkansans care what happens there, especially to the children brought into the U.S. by their parents, and he is taking it upon himself to encourage them to share their concerns.
Prezotti designed and had printed yard signs that read, “kids don’t belong in cages,” along with the phone numbers for the offices of Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton and Representative French Hill.
Prezotti said Tuesday that his passion for the cause built over the last few months. “I think it started out casually,” he explained. “You know, you just hear the news, you know, on Facebook or flipping through the television. And then, as I heard it, I would pay more attention and kind of seek out articles about what was going on at the border.”
He decided last month that he had to do something that would allow him the share his concern beyond his circle of friends and family and reach those with the power to improve conditions in the federal detention facilities.
“I think it was, specifically, just the treatment of the migrant children. I’m a nurse at Children’s in the emergency room,” he explained, “and so, just seeing how these kids were being treated so poorly kind of resonated with me.”
Prezotti said he would not have described himself as a political person. “I’ve never so much as called my Senator before,” he mentioned. “This was the first time I’d done that. The first time that I’ve really gotten involved politically in any way.”
He said he spent a couple hundred dollars for 50 signs. “My goal was just to get people to get involved,” he said, “to call their Senators, because that’s one of the best ways to have your voice heard.”
He said it took a week or so before anyone asked for one, but he gave away the 50th sign Tuesday evening.
Prezotti said he has called all three offices for his members of Congress and has left messages with their staffers. He plans to continue calling until he gets a substantive reply. “I want them to know that this is an issue that the people in Little Rock want resolved and want changed, and I think a conversation needs to be had with the people and our representatives.”
Prezotti said he is not encouraging a partisan position; he just wants the United States to treat all children with the care they deserve. The support he has received in the last few weeks has changed his views on political activism, and he hopes to inspire more people to follow his lead.
“I think a lot of people feel this way, and I know I feel—or I felt, before—that my voice really wasn’t important,” he mentioned, “that I really couldn’t make a difference. But, just, I’ve learned over time, kind of doing this, that your voice can make a difference.
“I think it’s, you know, easier said than done, but just do it. The first phone call that you make to your representative, it’s scary and you don’t know what to say, and you’re going to kind of stumble over your words. But each call gets easier the more you do it, so just start and know that it gets easier as you continue calling.”
We have reached out to Senators Boozman and Cotton and Representative Hill for a response to the sign.
Sen. Boozman said in an emailed statement:
“The sheer volume of individuals entering our country at our southern border is overwhelming the ability of immigration officials to house them at facilities that were never designed for this type of influx. The dramatic spike in the number of unaccompanied minors is creating a humanitarian crisis and we have a responsibility to care for them while their claims are adjudicated. That’s why Congress recently approved billions of dollars in emergency funding to improve the housing standards and provide the basic necessities to protect these vulnerable children.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Boozman added that he voted for a bill that President Donald Trump signed July 1 that includes nearly $4.6 billion in emergency funding to address the crisis at the border.
Rep. Hill said in a statement:
“The record number of border apprehensions on our southwest border is not sustainable and threatens the safety of Americans, families, and children. What many people forget is that for the past two decades, border security has been a bipartisan commitment. In 2014, Republicans responded promptly and in a bipartisan fashion when President Obama declared a crisis at the southwest border. Solving today’s crisis will also require a bipartisan solution. Last month, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate put aside partisan differences to pass a bill that provides emergency assistance to children and families on our southwest border. This legislation is helping alleviate the suffering of children and families and supports our brave men and women who protect our borders and enforce our immigration laws. I hope that Speaker Pelosi will continue to work with Republicans to increase border security, reform our broken asylum laws, fund humanitarian aid, and work with Central American countries and Mexico to reduce the flow of migrants.”
Sen. Cotton has not yet responded.