The voices of hundreds of thousands of people rang nationwide on Saturday calling for the reunification of hundreds of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Protesters chanted “shut detention down!” as they marched in New York City’s Foley Square while in El Paso, Texas hundreds marched toward the Paso Del Norte (Santa Fe) Bridge that crosses into Juarez, Mexico. More than 600 events were planned across the country.
From immigrant-friendly cities like New York City and Los Angeles to conservative Appalachia and Wyoming, protesters are rallying under the Families Belong Together banner, pushing against Trump’s controversial zero tolerance policy that has seen some 2,000 families separated after crossing into the U.S. illegally from Mexico.
“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, which represents nannies, housekeepers and caregivers, many of whom are immigrants, ahead of the marches. “We just kept hearing over and over again, if it was my child, I would want someone to do something.”
Dallas protest organizer Michelle Wentz says opposition to the policy has seemed to cross political party lines. She called it a “barbaric and inhumane” policy.
The protests come after several weeks of demonstrations across the country – many outside detention centers nationwide.
In Boston, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Joe Kennedy III, both Democrats, will be among the attendees.
Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, welcomed interest in the immigration system and said only Congress has 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,” Houlton said. “As we have indicated before, the department is disappointed and frustrated by our nation’s disastrous immigration laws and supports action.”
Trump took to Twitter on Saturday morning to show his support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement amid calls from some Democrats for major changes to immigration enforcement.
Tweeting from New Jersey, Trump said that 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.”
Though many who show up will be seasoned anti-Trump demonstrators, others will be 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. In Portland, Oregon, for example, several stay-at-home moms have organized their first rally while caring for young kids.
“I’m not a radical, and I’m not an activist,” said Kate Sharaf, a Portland co-organizer. “I just reached a point where I felt I had to do more.”
That passion is heartening for the broader anti-Trump coalition, which hopes marches will attract people who have otherwise been on the sidelines, said David S. Meyer, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has authored books on U.S. political protest.
“There are people who have all kinds of other grievances or gripes with the Trump administration and they’re quite happy to use this one as the most productive and salient for the moment,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.