CLEVELAND, OHIO — Hundreds of immigrant activists and their supporters from as near as Cleveland and as far as Arizona marched on the Republican National Convention arena on Wednesday and erected a wall with their bodies and banners that stretched down several blocks.
The fabric wall held aloft by the chanting protesters was designed to challenge one of Donald Trump’s signature campaign promises: building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to prevent immigrants from crossing the border.
“We’re here to give Trump the wall he wanted,” said Ivan Vargas, an undocumented immigrant and father of two who came from Georgia for the demonstration.
The protesters lined up side-by-side, blocking the streets outside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. As they marched, they displayed banners painted with brick and fence patterns and messages in both English and Spanish. “Wall off Trump,” they chanted as they walked from Cleveland’s Public Square to the arena where the Republican nominee accepted his nomination Tuesday night.
“He just speaks, and doesn’t think through what he’s going to say,” said Pedro Lopez, an 18-year-old first-time voter whose parents immigrated from Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona. “There’s already a wall. You want to build a bigger wall and make Mexico pay for it?”
Trump’s proposed Mexican border wall, which would replace a secure fence that already exists along much of the border, would cost roughly $25 billion to build. Trump has repeatedly said he would force Mexico’s government to pay for the wall, though Mexico’s president has responded that the country would not go along with that plan. Even before solidifying plans for his wall, Trump has disparaged Mexican immigrants throughout his campaign, often calling them criminals and rapists.
Despite his unpopularity among Latinos — recent polls show that 80 percent have an unfavorable attitude about him — he maintains that he’s “number one with Hispanics.”
Trump’s message has resonated with those who want to shut down immigration and who believe immigrants are stealing U.S. jobs and are causing crime to skyrocket. At the protest on Wednesday, Gahan Haskins, who came to support Trump from New York City, repeatedly called the protesters “illegal aliens” who are coming into the United States, stealing jobs, and breaking the law.
“Everyone here is campaigning for the rights of illegals. If you were legal, you wouldn’t need to stand here and demonstrate,” Haskins yelled as protesters approached him to argue. “Anyone who says they’re here for immigrant rights, its illegal immigrant rights.”
The protests remained peaceful, despite the tense interactions between Trump supporters and immigration activists. But Vargas, who was born in Mexico and has lived in the United States for 20 years, said he would be willing to risk jail time or possible deportation to fight Trump’s hateful rhetoric.
“We are willing to put our bodies on the line to protest the people in power and hold them accountable.”