At ‘Families Belong Together’ rallies, activists demand reunification of families, ending inhumane detentions, abolishing ICE
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, July 2, 2018 – Moral outrage over President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy reached a fever pitch Saturday as people fought back flocking to ‘Families Belong Together’ rallies, peaceful protests held from coast-to-coast. Clad in white, pumping their fists in the air, marchers demanded that the administration immediately reunite migrant families, end the inhumane detention of asylum-seekers, and eliminate the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
In the nation’s capital, a heat index of 105 degrees did nothing to deter over 30,000 people who packed Lafayette Square, a seven-acre park located across from the White House. Brimming with energy and enthusiasm, rally-goers held up signs which read: ‘Zero tolerance for family separation’, ‘Don’t cage kids’, ‘Childhood is not a crime’, ‘Abolish ICE’, ‘Seeking asylum is legal’, ‘Dissent is patriotic’, ‘Impeach the baby snatchers’, ‘Love has no border’, ‘None is illegal on stolen land’, ‘We are all immigrants’, ‘Restore decency’.
President Trump spent the weekend at his golf resort in New Jersey where protesters gathered outside brandishing their own signs: ‘I really do care, you should too #begone’, ‘Even the Trump family belongs together’, ‘Reunite children with their families’, ‘God knows you lie’, ‘Stop racism now’, ‘Asylum seekers are not criminals’.
The occupant of the White House took to microblogging site Twitter to denounce the Democrats for “making a strong push to abolish ICE” which, he said, “will never happen”.
“To the great and brave men and women” of the law enforcement agency, he conveyed, “Do not worry or lose your spirit. You are doing a fantastic job of keeping us safe by eradicating the worst criminal elements”. The president professed, “I have watched ICE liberate towns from the grasp of MS-13 and clean out the toughest of situations. They are great”!
Proponents of dissolving ICE cite a lack of compassion and morality in enforcing immigration law — a corollary of the onerous zero tolerance policy.
In Sheridan, Oregon, some 123 ICE detainees, including 52 Indians, remain incarcerated in a federal prison. These are immigrant civil detainees being housed with criminals who, until recently, were denied access to legal counsel. People are allowed to seek asylum at a lawful port of entry in the US. Dehumanizing them is a despicable act as is using kids and adults as pawns in a political chess game.
Over 2,000 children snatched from their parents while trying to cross the southern border from Mexico remain in detention centers and it is unclear if they ever will or can be reunited with their families.
“From Trump’s Muslim ban to the recent human rights abuses being committed by our government along the southern border, this administration has been marked by mistreatment of immigrant and refugee communities”, said Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California, the only Indian-American elected to the upper chamber of Congress.
Addressing a Families Belong Together rally in Los Angeles, she bemoaned the detention facilities that are prisons, children housed in cages crying for their parents, not providing women fleeing domestic violence with a safe haven, failure to protect over 700,000 Dreamers (undocumented migrants who arrived in the US as children). “We know we are better than this”, she underscored repeatedly.
Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the first-ever Indian-American woman elected to the US House of Representatives never tires of sharing her story of coming to America by herself when she was just 16 years old, of struggling and succeeding against all odds. Now, she is in the forefront when it comes to standing up for the rights of all immigrants.
On Saturday, she addressed the Families Belong Together rally at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center in her home state. “We have to refuse to let Trump’s definition of who immigrants are to become our definition”, she said. “This country has always been a safe haven for those fleeing violence, persecution. We are a nation of immigrants”.
“The idea of kids in cages and asylum-seekers in prisons and moms being separated from breast-feeding children, this is just beyond politics. It really is just about right and wrong”, Jayapal affirmed.
On Thursday, she was arrested on Capitol Hill while protesting against what she called President Trump’s “zero humanity policy” on immigration. “I am proud to have been arrested with hundreds of others – people who believe the United States is better than holding asylum-seeking kids and parents in cages”, she said.
The huge turnout at the over 700 Families Belong Together marches from coast to coast conveyed a powerful message by concerned and compassionate citizens of zero tolerance for the unconscionable action of separating migrant families. The peaceful rallies were well organized by groups such as MoveOn, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Lending ample support to the prime coordinators were organizations such as South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), among many others.
In the nation’s capital, activists marched along Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Justice Department where they stacked their signs against its imposing doors. At one point, DC firefighters used spray nozzles to keep people cool, a gesture welcomed by many who gladly got drenched in the sweltering heat.
There were several touching moments on stage at Lafayette Park. Children, ages 7 to 10, read heart-warming letters to kids separated from their parents, encouraging them not to lose hope and assuring them in their own way that everything would be fine.
Adding their voices to the immigration protest, celebrities like singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, actress America Ferrera read affidavits from separated families.
“Our democracy is at stake. Our humanity is at stake. We are out here to save the soul of our nation”, Keys said.