Thousands of demonstrators marched in cities across the United States on Saturday against President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policy and to demand the immediate reunification of families separated at the border with Mexico.
Directly across from the White House, demonstrators filled Lafayette Square park in an atmosphere of both indignation and sadness, before marching toward the Capitol.
Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Portland also saw crowds of protesters turn out, with celebrities including Alicia Keys and Lin-Manuel Miranda present in Washington and John Legend in Los Angeles.
“We don’t believe in borders, we don’t believe in walls,” Sebastian Medina-Tayac, of the Piscataway Indian Nation, declared in English and Spanish at the start of the rally dubbed “Families Belong Together.”
Loudspeakers broadcast the cries of a child split from relatives, as a Brazilian mother told of being separated from her own son.
“I missed nine months of his life and it should never have happened,” said the woman, who only gave her name as Jocelyn. Her case dates from before the practice of separating families intensified in May.
“Shame! Shame!” the crowd responded in temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (33 Celsius).
The president could not hear the protesters’ shouts, as he spent the day in Bedminster, New Jersey at the Trump National Golf Club.
There, too, protesters gathered on his motorcade route, many of them with signs about immigration policy.
“Asylum seekers are not criminals,” said one.
Trump took to Twitter to defend his stance on immigration.
“When people come into our Country illegally, we must IMMEDIATELY escort them back out without going through years of legal maneuvering,” he wrote.
“Our laws are the dumbest anywhere in the world. Republicans want Strong Borders and no Crime. Dems want Open Borders and are weak on Crime!”
Starting in early May, in an attempt to staunch the flow of tens of thousands of migrants to the southern US border every month, Trump ordered the arrest of adults crossing the boundary illegally, including those seeking asylum.
Many trying to cross the US-Mexico frontier are destitute, fleeing gang violence and other turmoil in Central America.
As a result of Trump’s crackdown, distraught children were separated from their families and, according to widely broadcast pictures, held in chain-link enclosures, a practice that sparked domestic and global outrage.
Trump later signed an order ending the separation of families, but immigration lawyers say the process of reuniting children and their parents will be long and chaotic.
About 2,000 children remained split from their parents, according to official figures released last weekend.
‘Not what we stand for’
“It’s thinly-veiled racism,” Dorothy Carney, a 59-year-old middle school French and Latin teacher, told AFP at the Washington rally.
“The way for evil to win is for good people to do nothing. This is doing at least something.”
Rita Montoya, 36, a Washington lawyer, was born in California but has Mexican origins and arrived at the protest with her two sons, aged two and four.
“We’re children of immigrants,” she said. “We’ve been putting in our dues in this country for a long time, and this country needs to start paying us some respect.”
The mood was similar in New York, where Julia Lam, 58, joined the protest with two friends and their young children in strollers.
Lam is a mother and retired fashion designer who emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1980s.
“I think it’s really cruel to separate kids,” she said.
“I am angry. I’m very sad already with what is going on with our country. I just don’t see how a human being would do such a thing.”
Lawyer Courtney Malloy, 34, said it was important to show support for immigrants and that administration policies are “not America.”
“This is not what we stand for and this is not okay, and we will not stand here and watch our country be torn apart and watch babies be torn from their mothers,” she told AFP.
Malloy held up a sign that read: “The Only Baby Who Belongs in a Cage is Donald Trump.”
Families, young people, children and the elderly — both recent arrivals and long-time citizens — all stood under a burning sun as part of a protest that a New York police officer said numbered “a couple of thousand.”
“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” they chanted, also declaring a welcome for Muslims.
A band of drummers whipped up the fervor of a crowd, carrying signs such as “Our New York is Immigrant New York.”
“Abolish ICE,” read another sign, reflecting growing calls by activists for disbanding the country’s frontline immigration enforcement agency.
In the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, about 50 activists marched through downtown and traveled on to an international bridge, holding banners against the border wall Trump wants to build and militarization of the areas alongside it.
“Parents do not know what is happening with their children, and they are housed in unhealthy areas, in cages like dogs,” said protester Jose Luis Castillo.
The protests come after the US Supreme Court on Tuesday handed Trump a major victory by upholding his ban on travelers from five primarily Muslim nations.
More than 500 women, including a member of Congress, were arrested Thursday in the US Capitol complex protesting Trump’s immigration policy.
Trump has made fighting immigration — both illegal and legal — a major plank of his “America First” policy agenda.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency makes arrests and otherwise enforces the administration’s immigration crackdown, but an emerging coalition of politicians, activists and pro-immigrant protesters has begun calling for the agency to be dismantled.
“Occupy ICE” camps have been set up in several US states.