National News

Marches Across the U.S. Protest Separation of Migrant Families

Posted June 14, 2018 10:33 p.m. EDT
Updated June 14, 2018 10:39 p.m. EDT

Demonstrators came together in 50 cities across the country Thursday evening to protest the separation of migrant families under President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance crackdown on illegal immigration, enacted in May.

Organizers said more than 5,000 people had signed up to join the Families Belong Together rallies, aimed at halting one of the most widely debated new fronts in the Trump administration’s campaign to slow the flow of migrants across the southwest border from Mexico and Central America.

“Our goal is to shine a light on the family separation happening at the border and other points of entry into the United States and about the trauma that family separation inflicts on these children and their families and how wrong and, frankly un-American that is,” said Shannon McClain, a marketing specialist from New York who has helped coordinate the campaign.

McClain said she began planning for the rallies after learning about the campaign on Twitter. Interest in the event grew exponentially, she said, as volunteers, many of them outraged mothers, jumped in to help.

In Suffolk County, New York, where Trump last year invoked a string of gang murders in the area to rail against unauthorized immigrants, a crowd of dozens gathered in Huntington Village wearing yellow bracelets in solidarity with migrant families.

“Defense lawyers tell us that the parents being prosecuted for crossing the border are being made to wear yellow bracelets to denote their status,” said Dr. Eve Krief, a protest organizer.

Demonstrators sang and recited a poem. One speaker, Dr. Harold Fernandez, said he had come to the United States from Colombia, by way of the Bahamas, at 13. He said he was uncomfortable speaking to the crowd, but he spoke about a familiar issue.

“I’ve been separated from my family when I was a little child,” Fernandez said. His parents came to the country before he did.

Bob and Margaret Slifkin watched and listened, overwhelmed with emotion.

“This is not America,” Slifkin said. “This is not the country that I want to live in.”

At a rally in Austin, Texas, Nichole Miller, a local activist, said protesting the administration’s practices was crucial in her state, where immigration issues affect such a large share of residents.

“We’re in the capital of Texas so there’s a lot more impact here,” Miller said. “It’s super important I think to start wherever we can all around the city but also get that message to our lawmakers, our governor and those who have an impact in D.C.”

Micaela Eller, a leadership coach at IBM, said she had helped put together the rally in Austin after reading about the family-separation issue from stories posted on Twitter and Facebook.

“I read an account of a mother whose 4-year-old son had been taken from her and about her experience of being ‘processed’ with yellow wrist bands with numbers on it to identify those families that were separated so they could be easily identified,” Eller said. “It was a gut-wrenching account, and as a mother it broke my heart.”

Eller said she took to social media. Beginning with a couple of tweets to actress Alyssa Milano, a prolific presence on social media with nearly 3.5 million followers who has been vocal about this issue, Eller was able to set up a rally in her city.

“I believe we are at a crossroads as a nation, and we have a choice to make,” Eller said, “and I wanted to make sure that my voice was among the loudest voices saying this is not OK, and this is not who we are as a country.”

A rally outside a public library in Augusta County, Virginia, drew around 50 people, many of whom wore yellow, the color of the processing wristbands, and waved as honking cars drove past.

“The county that we live in is incredibly red so for that dynamic to exist and still have so much support I just think that it further proves that this issue goes beyond politics,” said Jennifer Kitchen, a field organizer who helped coordinate the event. She said she wanted her community’s interest to go beyond the demonstrations on Thursday.

“There was a lot of conversation about what we need to do next and about how to keep showing up for immigrant families,” Kitchen said.

A similar protest unfolded Wednesday afternoon in Washington, where eight Democratic members of Congress marched alongside Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston and other demonstrators outside the offices of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., passed out from heat exhaustion during the event but recovered shortly after.