Protesters across the United States turned out for mass demonstrations on Saturday in opposition to Trump administration policies that have led to thousands of immigrant children being ripped from their families at the southern US border and detained in makeshift prison camps.
More than 700 demonstrations were planned in all 50 states under the rubric Families Belong Together. One of the biggest protests was held in Washington D.C’.s Lafayette Square, directly across the street from the White House, with turnout expected to top 50,000 people.
Scores of organizations are supporting Saturday’s mass mobilizations, spearheaded by the liberal group MoveOn.org, and contesting the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has led to the detentions of thousands crossing the US border, including those planning to file claims of asylum. Protesters thronged the streets in hundreds of towns and cities at sister rallies from coast to coast.
“As a direct result of the Trump administration’s policy choices, there is a human rights disaster of epic proportions happening at our border,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union — another major organizer of the protests — in a statement last week announcing the demonstrations.
“In the span of just six weeks, DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents. These thousands of children—some younger than a year old—are in danger of suffering lifelong trauma. We can’t let the Trump administration shift the blame or use families as bargaining chips for their inhumane policy agenda,” Praeli said, calling for an “immediate reunification of parents and children and an end to this cruel policy.”
Washington, DC’s Lafayette Park was packed with hundreds of people hoisting cardboard signs supporting immigrants, demanding families be reunited, and calling for the dissolution of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — ICE.
Activists with the immigrant-led group United We Dream led the crowd through a round of chants declaring that “immigrant children are somebody, and they deserve full equality.” A poster held by several protesters features an American flag fashioned like a jail cell, with an immigrant child peering through bars formed by the flag’s stripes.
“This is a travesty, this is not who we are,” said Susan, a protester who traveled from Port Lucie, Florida to take part in the march. “I’m here to fight the good fight, and try to save some of our democracy.”
Lorrilyn Rennings, a high school teacher from Lincoln, Nebraska, said the administration policies that have left families torn apart “breaks my heart.”
“At Lincoln High, we have kids from 46 nations, so my classrooms are filled with kids who may or may not have documentation to be here,” she said. “I think we need to vote and raise our voices, because we are powerful and we need to just shut this down — it’s ridiculous. Children and families being separated and detained is just beyond my imagination, it’s just awful and it’s deliberate. It makes me sick, and that’s why I’m here.”
At a protest in Miami, Duba Leibell, 59, said she was “absolutely horrified” at the prospect of detained children and separated families. “[Trump supporters] don’t have empathy. They don’t understand the true issues behind why people are coming to the United States, how we caused the violence in Central America, and laws that protect these people,” she said.
“I’m horrified, absolutely horrified that something like this is happening…I’m Jewish, and this reminds me of relatives that I lost.”
In New York City, throngs of demonstrators crossed the Brooklyn Bridge from lower Manhattan into Brooklyn. “I’m here to resist racism and the unjust separation of families who have migrated here for a better life,” said Ilana Glazer, 31. “I hope that immigrants see that American citizens care about their welfare. Our political representatives do not represent the people. This is not partisan,” she said.
At a rally in downtown Los Angeles, Jessica Valdez, 37, of Long Beach attended with her 13 year old son, Jose. “Most of these families have lived in fear their whole lives. For us, we have the freedom to be angry, to speak out,” said Valdez, a single mother and first generation American whose mother hails from Mexico.
“These people came here to escape something. If I feared for my son’s life every day, I would do everything in my power to bring him somewhere where he had a chance. I think every parent feels that way.”
After weeks of growing and near-universal condemnation of his child separation policy, Trump signed an executive order ostensibly ending the practice he himself began. But the White House has yet to announce how it plans to handle the thousands of infants and children who were already placed in federal custody.
Saturday’s protests follow a demonstration on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C this week that saw more than 600 protestors — including a Democratic congresswoman — arrested.
More than a thousand female protesters, joined by Democratic senators, took center stage on Capitol Hill to protest the president's immigration policies.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 28, 2018
The New York Times wrote on Friday that the protests are a galvanizing moment for those who want to see an end the to the “odious” practice of separating children from their parents.
“The marches taking place across the country this weekend are really about the soul of America,” the paper wrote in an editorial.
“Forcibly separating children from their parents is not about ‘deterrence,’ or the legal technicalities of law, or illegal immigration, or anything else President Trump has claimed to justify his latest and most odious outrage,” the daily wrote.
“It is the duty of every decent American to demand that it promptly reunite these children with their parents.”
While thousands were planning to take to the streets, others have sought to challenge the administration in the courts.
Buzzfeed reported that five immigrant children in federal custody filed a lawsuit Friday against what they called the Trump administration’s “cruel policies and practices that unlawfully prolong their detention and delay their reunification with their families.”
The plaintiffs, aged 12 to 17, arrived unaccompanied from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. “When children are held in government custody apart from their primary caregivers for long periods, they suffer profound and long-lasting injury,” reads the lawsuit cited by Buzzfeed.
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered an end to family separations, and ordered the Trump administration to reunify families within 30 days. The judge also ordered the administration to end deportations of parents without their children.
The Los Angeles Times reported late Friday that rather than continuing to separate children from parents apprehended crossing the border illegally, the Trump administration now wants to keep the families intact, but to hold them indefinitely in detention centers, Justice Department lawyers told a federal court Friday.
“The government will not separate families but detain families together during the pendency of immigration proceedings when they are apprehended at or between ports of entry,” the Justice Department reportedly told U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles, the site for what was expected to be one of the biggest demonstrations on Saturday.
This story has been updated with quotes and color from the protest in Washington. Also contributing were reporters Blair Bess in Los Angeles, California; Gina Cilberto in New York City; and Cat Buckler in Miami, Florida.