Thousands of demonstrators, baking in the heat and boiling mad at US immigration policy, marched across the country Saturday to protest the separation of families under President Donald Trump’s hardline agenda.

Demonstrators protest on the National Mall in Washington, DC, for the Women’s March on January 21, 2017.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters spearheaded by women’s rights groups demonstrated across the US to send a defiant message to US President Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO

Directly across from the White House, demonstrators filled Lafayette Square park in an atmosphere of both indignation and sadness, before marching toward the Capitol.

“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 its 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, Jocelyn, whose case dates from before the practice of separating families intensified in May.

“Shame! Shame!” the crowd responded in temperatures above 90 F (33 C).

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.

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.

“It’s thinly-veiled racism,” Dorothy Carney, 59, a 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,” said the resident of Charlottesville, Virginia

Rita Montoya, 36, a Washington lawyer, was born in California but has Mexican origins and arrived at the protest with her two sons, aged four and two.

– ‘Not what we stand for’ –
“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.”

Courtney Malloy, 34, a lawyer, 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, holding a sign that said, “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 including, “Our New York is Immigrant New York.”

“Abolish ICE,” said another sign, reflecting growing calls by activists for disbanding the country’s frontline immigration enforcement agency.

Saturday’s protests come after the US Supreme Court on Tuesday handed Trump a major victory by upholding his ban that mostly applied to 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.

Saturday’s demonstrations were the biggest yet. Marches were also reported in Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Chicago and Portland.

Trump has made fighting immigration — both illegal and legal — a major plank of his “America First” policy agenda.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) 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.


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