Hundreds gathered Saturday (April, 16) for a rally in Phoenix supporting a Romanian-Norwegian couple half a world away who are trying to reunite with their five children.
Chants and prayers in both English and Romanian echoed through the streets of downtown Phoenix as a crowd of protesters descended upon Cesar Chavez Plaza. The demonstration began at the steps of Maricopa County Superior Court and continued with a march down Jefferson, Third and Washington streets.
The demonstration was one of more than 50 rallies held April 16 in major cities across the U.S. and around the globe in support of Marius and Ruth Bodnariu, whose five children — ranging in age from three months to nine years — were seized in November.
Protesters and leading Norwegian professionals say social workers there are often too quick to separate children from their families with too little justification, particularly when parents are immigrants, according to a BBC report.
Marius Bodnariu is a Romanian citizen. His wife, Ruth, is Norwegian.
Rep. Trent Franks spoke at a rally for the Bodnariu family on Saturday in downtown Phoenix. (Photo: Lucas Robbins)
“It was heartbreaking to imagine what they’re going through,” Ema Hasna, a mother of two who attended the rally in Phoenix. Hasna is a native of Romania living in Glendale. “Just knowing we are parents too and having your kids taken away from you is just unimaginable, there’s no words to describe the pain.”
U.S. Rep. Trent Franks spoke at the demonstration organized by a group of Romanian-American religious and civic leaders. He thinks what happened to the Bodnariu family also happens in Arizona and affirmed the importance of having regulations to hold child services accountable.
“So many of the people who are in (Arizona’s) system are truly dedicated to doing the right thing on behalf of children,” said Franks, who is the former director of the Arizona Governor’s Office for Children. “Yet, I’ve also seen isolated instances where I don’t believe that occurred.”
Glendale residents Ema Hasna and her husband Cornel protested with their children Sarah, 6, and David, 2, for the Bodnariu family in downtown Phoenix on Saturday. (Photo: Lucas Robbins)
Frank believes families, in most cases, provide the best environment for a child’s care and development. He, along with demonstrators, stressed the importance of children staying with their families and how removal was an unnecessary option in most situations.
“If someone came into my home and wanted to arrest me for murder, that would be far less traumatizing to me than someone coming in and taking my 7-year-old twins,” Franks said. “Ultimately, in every case, the best interest of the children must prevail.”
Hasna said immigrant families with similar experiences have been emboldened to speak out against the Barnevernet, Norway’s social services.
“They were afraid to come out because they (Barnevernet) threatened if they say something they would never see the kids again,” she said. “So they got the wrong family to mess with. And the Romanian community, when we all heard about it, it was like, ‘We all are one.'”