US protests over Trump’s ‘zero humanity’ immigration policy

Families Belong Together rallies take place in over 700 locations across the country

Thousands of people marched in major cities and tiny towns across the US on Saturday to demand president Donald Trump's administration reunites families separated at the US-Mexico border.

More than 700 marches were planned across the country, from immigrant-friendly cities like Los Angeles and New York to conservative Appalachia and Wyoming, under the banner Families Belong Together.

The rallies were also due to hear fears voiced over the prospect of the supreme court swinging sharply to the right, given Mr Trump is to nominate a conservative replacement for an outgoing centrist judge next month.

"This is an all hands on deck, stop the madness moment. It's not a red or blue thing," said the national protest organiser, Ai-jen Poo.

Thousands dressed in white gathered early on Saturday morning in sweltering heat in Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, DC, for what was expected to be the largest of the day's protests.

One marcher’s sign read: “What’s next? Concentration camps?” while another said: “I care, do you?”, in a reference to a jacket first lady Melania Trump wore when visiting child migrants amid the global furore over the administration’s zero-tolerance policy that forced the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents.

Her jacket had “I really don’t care. Do you?” scrawled across the back, and that message has become a rallying cry for Saturday’s protesters.

“We care,” marchers shouted outside city hall in Dallas, Texas. The organiser of the Dallas rally, Michelle Wentz, said opposition to the administration’s “barbaric and inhumane” policy seemed to cross political party lines.

Marchers in the city also carried signs that read “Compassion not cruelty” and “November is coming”, a reference to the mid-term elections.

In New York City, thousands began chanting "shame" and singing "shut detention down" before their planned march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Smaller groups came together in city parks and squares in every state, in a total of 703 places across the country, and photos quickly started ricocheting around social media.

Children joined in, with one little girl in Washington carrying a handwritten sign which said: “I get my mommy. Why can’t she?”

Though many who showed up to the rallies across the country were seasoned anti-Trump demonstrators, others were new to immigration activism, including parents who say they feel compelled to show up after heart-wrenching accounts of children forcibly taken from their families as they crossed the border illegally.

Most children affected by the crackdown have not yet been reunited with their parents despite the president halting the summary separation policy and a judge this week ordering the administration to reunite families.

‘I had to do more’

In Portland, Oregon, several stay-at-home mothers organised their first rally while caring for their children.

“I’m not a radical, and I’m not an activist,” said Kate Sharaf, a Portland co-organiser. “I just reached a point where I felt I had to do more.”

Immigrant advocacy groups say they are thrilled — and surprised — to see the issue gaining traction among those not tied to immigration.

“Honestly, I am blown away. I have literally never seen Americans show up for immigrants like this,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, political director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

“We just kept hearing over and over again, if it was my child, I would want someone to do something.”

Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the US department of homeland security, welcomed interest in the immigration system and said only Congress had the power to change the law.

“We appreciate that these individuals have expressed an interest in and concern with the critical issue of securing our nation’s borders and enforcing our immigration laws,” he said.

“As we have indicated before, the department is disappointed and frustrated by our nation’s disastrous immigration laws and supports action.”

Mr Trump took to Twitter on Saturday morning to show his support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) amid calls from some Democrats for major changes to immigration enforcement.

Tweeting from New Jersey, Mr Trump said Democrats “are making a strong push to abolish ICE, one of the smartest, toughest and most spirited law enforcement groups of men and women that I have ever seen”.

He urged ICE agents to “not worry or lose your spirit”.

‘Zero humanity’

Ms Poo said the protests were primarily for people who had been horrified at the news of the separations and detentions, but she said the cause would widen into a show of opposition against Mr Trump's travel ban, which targets five Muslim-majority countries and was upheld by the supreme court this week, as well as the threat of Mr Trump nominating a hard-right conservative for the supreme court seat vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

She dubbed the administration’s immigration policy “zero humanity” and “a moral atrocity” and said the main thrusts of Saturday’s events were to demand that families be reunited, call for an end to “zero tolerance” policies and an end to immigration detention, even where families are kept together.

Beyond the issue of family separations, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced earlier this month that domestic or gang violence, which is rife in many parts of Central America and Mexico, will no longer be regarded as valid reasons for seeking asylum in the US. – PA and Guardian