WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tens of thousands of protesters descended on the nation’s capital Saturday for the Families Belong Together March, chanting “Save Our Children” and objecting to President Trump’s family separation policy for immigrant parents.
“We’ve seen the state of our nation and decided we must take action,” said Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts, one of many speakers at the event. “Life is about making choices … we face a million choices every day, but some choices are just daunting.”
Speaking from a stage at Lafayette Square, Dyrdahl-Roberts, a former employee with the Montana Department of Labor, explained that he resigned from his job in February when instructed to pass along information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would “be used to deport people,” adding that he “couldn’t do it and live with [himself],” and “just follow orders.”
In April 2018, the Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, directing ICE and Customs and Border Protection officers to separate children if the detainees are parents. On June 20, Trump signed an executive order suspending the policy, and a federal court halted the practice through a nationwide injunction on June 26.
Amid concerns of continued separation of parents from children at the border and wanting to reunite families, the ACLU, MoveOn, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights organized the March, which drew an estimated 30,000 attendees.
“We are standing here today to say that cruelty is wrong and that all people, whether they’re American citizens or claiming refugee status or coming over the border deserve to be treated with dignity,” David Spett, 32, a D.C. resident, said. “I’m very concerned about the Trump administration’s policies regarding family separation, and I think we have to speak our minds.”
Residents from Montgomery County also participated in the March.
Jonathan Reed, 41, of Silver Spring attended with his cousin and daughter to “show support for the families broken up at the border.”
“I wanted the world to know that the American citizens, we do not agree with Trump’s policies; we are not the people that Trump is portraying us to be to the world,” Reed added. “We are much better than that.”
Germantown resident Gabi Rosazza, 23, explained that the current migrant crisis stems from U.S. foreign and trade policies that predate the Trump administration.
“I think migrants wouldn’t be forced to flee in the first place if it wasn’t for 100-plus years of colonization … and U.S. intervention into all of Latin America,” she said. “It’s mostly U.S. foreign policy … and they’re fleeing violence and exploitation, and we further exploit them when we get to the border.”
Rosazza explained that trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central America Free Trade Agreement created conditions that forced migrants to leave their home countries.
“NAFTA and CAFTA were created for corporate profits; it only benefits big corporations that want to outsource jobs to Central America where they can pay workers misery … workers are exploited, they’re making five, six dollars a day and working 14 hours a day,” she said. “How are you supposed to survive with those wages and in those conditions?”
Like Rosazza, left-wing and Socialist groups contextualized the current crisis with past U.S. policies.
Matt Wall, 37, a D.C. resident and organizer with Socialist Alternative, said that problems at the U.S.-Mexico border have persisted “for quite some time,” which “haven’t really gotten really any attention in the media.”
“People are fleeing the world because there have been crises … a lot of them caused by capitalism and caused, in a lot of ways, by U.S. involvement in that part of the world,” he said.
While detention policies existed under prior presidential administrations, Wall explained that the Trump administration “is ramping it up” through family separations. He added that Socialist Alternative opposes all deportations, while supporting complete amnesty and policies that “help our neighbors” and put an end to “meddling” in [Latin American] governments.
Standing next to a banner that read: “Trump is the symptom, capitalism is the disease, Socialism is the cure,’ Nicole Roussell, 29, an activist from Columbia Heights with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said she was motivated by the “decades of immigrant repression.”
“We don’t need people to be behind bars; it’s not only expensive for taxpayers, but it doesn’t make any sense. People have not committed any wrongs and they’re applying for asylum under their own international legal rights,” she added.
Attendees born outside the United States expressed personal connections to the issue of immigration.
Patricia Arriaza, 45, emigrated from El Salvador in 1981 at a time when the country was experiencing a civil war.
“There were curfews, there were blackouts; you really had to be careful which streets you walk down because there were soldiers everywhere, and you didn’t want to be caught in the middle of a fight,” she said.
Arriaza explained that she and her family relocated to the U.S. after seeing child soldiers being recruited to fight in the war, adding, “We were fortunate that we had an avenue to come here.”
Rodrigo Velasquez, 24, who emigrated from Bolivia in 1999 with his parents, spoke of the numerous challenges he faced while being undocumented before obtaining a green card.
“I couldn’t get a driver’s license when I was in high school … I couldn’t get a job … and I had to pay three times as much for college than my peers had to pay,” he explained, adding that his immigration status precluded him from applying to certain institutions.
Velasquez said that after being a victim of domestic violence, he received a U visa while attending George Mason University and transitioned to a green card, with the eventual goal of getting U.S. citizenship.
With the family separation policies in place, Angel Mendez, 20, of Los Angeles said: “This was not the county he wants to give to his children.”
“I’m the son of immigrants, and I think it’s necessary that we all Americans come out and denounce our government because what they’re doing at the border is inhumane – that a child should be separated from their mother,” Mendez said.
Scattered across Lafayette Square, anti-abortion activists engaged in numerous confrontations with the protesters.
“They’re [the protesters] are talking about ripping the children away from their mothers; well, that’s what abortion does … it rips the child out of the mother’s womb only in that case the child dies,” said Lise Baur, 51, of Silver Spring. “In this case, at the border, we’re merely separating the parents and the children, and the children aren’t dying; in fact, they’re being treated very well … they put them in housing, and they probably have their first dental appointments they ever had and eating nutritious food.”
Baur explained that separation policies are sometimes necessary to “ascertain the situation.”
“If I were to drive drunk with my children in the car, I’m sure they would be separated from me until they ascertained where I was fit enough to drive to be a parent,” she said.
Nick Pugliese, 27, a D.C. resident, stood in front of Baur and the other anti-abortion protesters, holding a sign that read: “Caging kids is not pro-life.”
“Putting a kid in a cage, how is that supportive of pro-life?” he asked “It bothers me that the pro-life movement isn't being more vocally part of this ... is about as anti-life as you can get.”