More than 30,000 people have gathered in the US capital to protest against US President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, as tens of thousands of others are expected to attend similar rallies planned across all 50 states.
In Washington, DC, immigrant parents and children, activists, religious leaders and celebrities addressed the crowd attending Saturday’s “Families Belong Together” protest and called for an end to Trump’s “inhumane” immigration policies and the reunification of children and parents who were separated at the border.
Among the people taking the stage was Jocelyn, an asylum seeker from Brazil, who shared her ordeal when her son was taken away from her upon arrival to the US last summer.
The two were separated for nine months and nine days, she said. During that time, federal officials told the mother her son may be put up for adoption, added Jocelyn, as cries of “shame” erupted among the crowds.
She was finally reunited with her son on June 5 after winning a lawsuit filed by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
‘Nothing kept me from today’
Some in attendance said they travelled “all night” to be at the protest.
“I have never been more depressed,” Courtney Carter from Maryland said.
“I have never felt so hopeless and helpless, but I continue to show up,” Carter told Al Jazeera.
“During the Parkland shooting, during the women’s march, and here today. I will be here, rain or shine, heat or not. Nothing kept me from today.”
Saturday’s protests come as more than 2,000 children remain separated from their families, according to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) fact sheet released on June 20.
Family separations were part of the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, announced in early April.
Bowing to pressure last week, Trump signed an executive order that ended the controversial tactic, but protests have continued as questions remain over when and how families will be reunited.
“I never thought I’d have to do this again,” Donna McDonough told Al Jazeera in Washington, DC. The last time she was at a protest was in the late 1960s, she said, when Richard Nixon was president.
A former pediatric nurse, she said the harm caused to children separated from their families would be lifelong in some cases.
“These will cause lifelong trauma. This will be with the families forever,” she said. “And some of the separations may be permanent. [Federal officials] do not know where families’ children are.
“We are in a time like Weimar Germany, before [Adolf] Hitler took power. People think it cannot happen here, they’re in for a surprise.”
Government-released videos showing children housed in metal cages and using large foil sheets as blanket, as well as leaked videos showing children in tears and wailing for their parents, have caused widespread outrage over Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.
A federal judge on Tuesday gave federal officials less than a month to reunite families with their children. Children under the age of five need to be reunited with families within two weeks.
Trump’s executive order is seen by many as a way for the president to only shift his policy so that families can remain in detention for long periods of time.
Last week, the Department of Justice asked a court in California to modify a federal court ruling that said migrant and refugee children can only be kept in detention for up to 20 days.
After recent visits to detention centres, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said families were “gratified that hundreds of thousands of people were going out on the streets” in their name.
“They are heartbroken, they are angry, they will do anything to get their children back,” she told Al Jazeera, prior to Saturday’s protest. “They are told they can get their children back if they drop their asylum claims. That is a huge problem. It’s illegal, and they might not get their children back even then.”
Katharina Obser, senior policy adviser with Migrant Rights and Justice, said the inhumane policies and separations were “not only traumatising to family members, but also severely inhibits access to asylum in the US”.
“All that is on people’s mind is what happened to their children,” she said. “Concerns have been fear of not knowing when they will see their children.”
ICE is a ‘rogue agency’
Over the past few weeks a number of demonstrations have broken out across the country.
Protesters in several US cities have set up camp outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) buildings, calling for the abolishment of the agency.
On Thursday, more than 500 women were arrested during an all-women sit-in at the atrium of a Senate office building. Protesters called for an end to detention camps and the end of ICE.
Congresswoman Jayapal, who has long called for the abolishment of ICE, was among those arrested.
“It’s a rogue agency,” she said. “They have no accountability. They are acting as a mass deportation force and terrorising families across the country.”
Jayapal had doubts federal officials know how to bring families back together.
“I don’t think they kept good track which children belong to which parents,” she said. “Particularly children that are preverbal that cannot say parents’ names or who they belong to.”
At a federal prison she said a woman showed her a state-issued slip supposedly with the name of her two children, along with her own name and ID.
“She came to me with the slip and said these are not my children,” Pramila said. “This is a huge tragedy.”[source: Al Jazeera]