WASHINGTON: Thousands of demonstrators marched across the country on Saturday to protest the separation of families under President Donald Trump’s hard-line policy.
Dubbed “Families Belong Together,” the demonstration in Washington began at Lafayette Square where crowds gathered directly across from the White House before a planned march toward the Capitol.
In New York, 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 which a police officer said already 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” and “No Cages, No Ban, No Wall”. “Abolish ICE,” said another sign, reflecting growing calls by activists for abolition of the country’s front-line immigration enforcement agency.
‘It’s really cruel’
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.
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 remain split from their parents, according to official figures released last weekend.
Saturday’s protests also come after the US Supreme Court on Tuesday handed Trump a major victory by upholding his ban that mostly applied to travellers from five primarily Muslim nations.
Julia Lam, 58, joined the New York protest with two friends and their young children in strollers.
Lam is a mother and a 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.”
Dismantling of ICE
More than 500 women, including a member of Congress, were arrested on Thursday in the US Capitol complex protesting Trump’s immigration policy.
Saturday’s demonstrations were expected to be the biggest yet.
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 dismantling of ICE.
Critics say the agency has treated some would-be immigrants cruelly and unfairly. “Occupy ICE” camps have been set up in several US states.On Saturday morning Trump tweeted support for ICE, saying “radical left Dems want you out. Next it will be all police. Zero chance, it will never happen!”
The political backlash against ICE is so intense that members of the agency’s criminal investigative division have asked Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to split them off as a separate agency, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
The Post said the request came from the majority of special agents in charge of the Homeland Security Investigative Division, which handles transnational investigations related to counterterrorism, narcotics and human trafficking.