There were hundreds of protests across the United States against the Trump administration’s immigration policies on Saturday but few reached the urgency of those in the Lone Star State.
In Texas, where almost all of the family separations have occurred, protests took on a heightened fervor, as more than 30 cities across the state held rallies to express fervent opposition to President Trump’s hardline immigration crackdown, which has seen children separated from their parents and sparked deep emotions on both sides of this border state.
The history of Texas is inextricably linked to that of Mexico and the two areas were once the same country. Traffic still flows on both sides of the border for business, commerce, tourism, and social ties, with members of some families strewn on either side of the territorial divide.
Residents of color outnumber white residents in the state, where both the undocumented and overall immigrant population are the second-largest in the country, and emotions run high on the issue of family separations. A poll taken earlier this month found that most Texans oppose family separations. Only 28 percent supported the White House policy.
In the sweltering Texas capital of Austin where temperatures were expected to top 101 degrees Fahrenheit, residents gathered wielding posters bearing slogans like “Apathy is consent!”
The crowd swelled as the afternoon stretched on, numbering roughly 8,000 protesters according to an estimate from one Austin American-Statesman reporter.
Activists and immigrants took the stage to speak about their own experiences with U.S. immigration policies. Parents and caregivers recounted how their children, who they believed had been taken away by officials at the border only briefly to take photographs, never reappeared.
Sulma Franco, a local activist, spoke to the crowd about her own experiences as a detained asylum seeker.
“Look at your children next to you, what do you feel?” she asked. “How would you feel if they [the government] ripped them out of your arms?”
“This country has been built by the sweat and the pain of the immigrant people,” she continued.
Franco noted that she is still in danger of deportation and that the government has questioned her asylum request. Throughout the crowd, protestors booed and yelled their solidarity.
“This is an atrocity I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” Michelle Jackson, 35, told ThinkProgress.
A number of officials appeared at the Austin rally, including four city council members as well as Mayor Steve Adler. The lawmaker was part of a delegation of mayors who had visited the entry point city of Tornillo, Texas last week to call on the Trump administration to reverse its family separation policy.
Adler, a Democrat, has been part of a largely bipartisan effort pushing the White House to shift its stance, a sentiment many at the rally echoed, belying the conservative cast of of this usually solidly red state. “Vote! Vote! Vote!” protestors chanted.
Signs demanded the abolishment of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and urged voters to take part in November’s midterm elections.
Some posters featured the hashtag #BETOforTexas, a reference to Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican. While Cruz has condemned family separations, he has historically supported the Trump administration’s stance on immigration issues.
Chris Tomayko, 51, told ThinkProgress that he grew up in a politically conservative family where Fox News played every morning and considered himself a political moderate until recently.
“I was comfortable being a spectator in politics this whole time, but have seen so much regression from people being frightened,” the former offshore oil rig worker said. “Fear-based tactics, lies, and confusion has resulted in bringing humanity down to the lowest point I have seen.”
Two friends, identified only by their first names, Chris and Julie, said they were attending the rally to draw attention to injustices on the border and the struggles facing asylum seekers.
“I wish that more people understood that some of this is a result partially from the U.S. government’s participation in the drug trade in the ’80s,” said Julie. “We can’t change the past, now the focus should be helping these asylum seekers.”
Standing beside her, Chris, who identified himself as Latinx, echoed that it was important for “different communities in Austin to come together” in a show of support for immigrants.
Similar scenes played out in the large metro areas of El Paso, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
“ABOLISH ICE!” read one sign in El Paso, near the beginning of a march featuring drummers and dancers.
— Jorge Salgado (@SalgadoPhoto_) June 30, 2018
In Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country and the nation’s most diverse, thousands marched from City Hall to the offices of Sen. Cruz, in a show of anger directed at the Texas lawmaker. Many demanded protections for the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants previously granted temporary relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump ended in September 2017. Others vowed opposition to Trump’s long-touted wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Smaller areas also drew crowds, including McKinney and Midland. In the town of Alpine, located far to the western end of the state and home to a mere 6,000 residents, a small crowd gathered determinedly, armed with signs.
“Love not hate! Makes America great!” protestors chanted.
— Harold Cook (@HCookAustin) June 30, 2018
At the Austin rally several hours away, solidarity with border communities and immigrants also resounded throughout the crowd.
“I’m here because this policy is a thin veneer [and part of] a pattern of racism,” 68-year-old Susan Lippman told ThinkProgress.
“I grew up on the border,” she said. “I have no idea what everyone is so afraid of. These are good people.”
With additional reporting from Austin, Texas by Clarissa Grayson.