Rallying for Migrant Families

A sea of white shirts, clever signs, and fearless faces—this was the makeup of the nation on Saturday morning. Across the United States, more than 750 rallies, some with tens of thousands of attendees, streamed through streets, crossed over bridges and surrounded federal buildings to demand justice for migrant families at the U.S. / Mexico border as part of the #FamiliesBelongTogether National Day of Action

A young protestor at the #FamiliesBelongTogether rally in Washington, D.C. (Copyright Jenny Warburg)

Speaking through tears, a Brazilian mother who has been separated from her 10-year-old son for more than a month shared her story with the crowd of protestors gathered in Boston. “We came to the United States seeking help, and we never imagined that this could happen,” she said with the help of an interpreter. “So I beg everyone, please, release these children, give my son back to me.” Lin-Manuel Miranda sang a soft lullaby for detained migrant parents who are unable to be there for their children at the rally in Washington, D.C.—moments before Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys read a letter written by a woman whose son was taken away from her at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Sen. Kamala Harris addresses the #FamiliesBelongTogether rally in Los Angeles. (Copyright Nina Zacuto)

To a crowd of 25,000 in New York City, actor Kerry Washington fiercely criticized the Trump administration. “I will not stand for somebody else turning this country further down the road of racism and disenfranchisement,” she declared. “Enough is enough!”In nearby Queens, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic candidate for New York’s 14th congressional district who ousted 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley after Tuesday’s primary election, marched in solidarity with protestors. Her campaign has called for the dissolution of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In her speech to 75,000 demonstrators in Los Angeles, Sen. Kamala Harris reminded the crowds of how their efforts will be remembered in history. “This is a moment in time that is requiring us collectively to look in a mirror and ask a question—that question being, who are we?” she said. “I believe the answer includes saying: ‘we’re better than this.’” Harris appeared in June outside of Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego for a protest against the Trump policies. 

Laverne Cox, who arrived to the LA rally alongside the national Latinx transgender rights advocacy organization TransLatin@s Coalition, also implored the crowd to think critically about the carceral state. “We are here to demand our government reunite migrant children with their families right now,” Cox told the crowd. “Let us not forget that the corporations that own private for-profit prisons also run the privately owned immigration detention centers that are profiting from separating migrant children from their families.” At one point, strikers heard the faint sounds of prisoners from inside the adjacent Los Angeles Metro Detention Center banging on the windows. 

President Trump criticized the nationwide protests on Twitter, posting words of encouragement for ICE officers and falsely claiming that demonstrators participating were anti-police. Trump’s administration has tried unsuccessfully over the last month to place blame for its disastrous border policies outside of itself, despite it being the creation of White House officials. Trump’s zero-tolerance policy left over 2,000 children detained separately from their families after being forcibly taken from them at the border; many are living in tent cities and prison-like detention centers, and some may never see their parents again. Although Trump signed an executive order ending the policy moving forward—opting instead to detain families together, and perhaps indefinitely—his administration has announced no concrete plan to reunite the families already separated by a policy slammed by the United Nations as a violation of human rights.

Rep. Maxine Waters addresses the #FamiliesBelongTogether rally in Los Angeles. (Copyright Nina Zacuto)

Rep. Maxine Waters, who has faced a barrage of public criticism and death threats since being singled out by Trump last week for speaking out on his border policies, issued a challenge to the administration in Los Angeles. “I know that there are those who are talking about censuring me, talking about kicking me out of Congress, talking about shooting me, talking about hanging me,” she said. “All I have to say is this: If you shoot me, you better shoot straight. There’s nothing like a wounded animal.”

Feminists like Waters—including Eleanor Smeal, Feminist Majority President—have been taking to social media and the streets to push back on Trump’s xenophobic immigration policies. During her remarks in Los Angeles, Waters declared that they would not relent in demanding justice—for migrants and for all Americans—during Trump’s presidency. “I am prepared to make whatever sacrifices need to be taken,” Waters told demonstrators. “I am not about to let this country to go by the way of Donald Trump.”

Eleanor Salsbury is an editorial intern at Ms.

Carmiya Baskin is an editorial intern at Ms. and a third-year Feminist Studies major at UC Santa Barbara. Her work has appeared in The Bottom Line, a student-run newspaper at UCSB, and EqualTalk, a feminist blog she co-founded through a women empowerment and teen leadership organization, Girls Give Back. She is passionate about all things related to intersectional feminism, Harry Potter and Disney, and she enjoys eating peanut butter right out of the jar while binge-watching The Office.

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