“Families Belong Together”: Tens of Thousands Across the U.S. Protest Trump’s Zero Tolerance Policy

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Tens of thousands of protesters marched in cities across the United States on Saturday for a “Families Belong Together” rally to demand the Trump administration comply with a federal judge’s ruling that all migrant children separated from their parents must be reunited. The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy led to the forcible separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents, some of whom have already been deported. The protests came 24 hours after the Trump administration said in a court filing on Friday that it has the right to hold children in detention with their parents for the duration of their immigration proceedings, which can take months or years. Current law prevents children from being held for more than 20 days. Democracy Now! was in the streets of Washington, D.C., where tens of thousands rallied.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Tens of thousands protested across the United States, from hamlets to villages to cities to towns, all Saturday for a “Families Belong Together” rally to demand the Trump administration comply with a federal judge’s ruling all migrant children separated from their parents must be reunited. Last week, Federal Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ruled all children under the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days, and all children 5 and older must be reunited with their parents within 30 days. The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy led to the forcible separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents.

The demonstrations come amidst a new strike in the legal battle over immigration. The government said in a court ruling Friday it has the right to hold children in detention with their parents for the duration of their immigration proceedings, which can be indefinitely. Current law prevents children from being held for more than 20 days.

Well, Democracy Now! was on the streets of Washington, D.C., covering the action.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it? Shut it down! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!

JUANITA CABRERA LOPEZ: My name is Juanita Cabrera Lopez, and I’m Maya Mam, originally from Guatemala, but I’m here in the United States. And I came here today as an indigenous woman who has also experienced much of what’s been happening at the border, as a former political refugee, as a child who also crossed the border, because there are many indigenous children right now in detention centers who can’t communicate, and they’ve been separated from their families, and they have no one to speak for them.

What’s happening right now with the children and families, all of them, but the ones who are most vulnerable are the ones who can’t even speak, the ones because they’re too young or because they can’t even speak in Spanish, let alone English. And so, right now, we, as a Maya community that has been displaced from our countries, are trying to help our people as best we can, by getting indigenous language interpreters to connect with the children. But we are constantly invisible in this struggle, because we’re mislabelled inaccurately as Latino, Hispanic, Latinx, when we’re actually Native American peoples from this continent.

I came here when I was a little girl, because we were forced from Guatemala during the internal armed conflict. And so we had to flee, or otherwise they would have killed us. But many of the people who are coming here now are the children, the grandchildren of the war of foreign policies that have decimated our country, of U.S.-backed and military-backed atrocities in my country and in other countries, like Honduras and Mexico and El Salvador, Nicaragua and so many other countries. And so there is a responsibility, as well, of the United States to not forget its historical role in pushing our people out and in helping our governments violate our rights.

CARLA WILLS: There are calls, of course, to abolish ICE. Your thoughts about that?

JUANITA CABRERA LOPEZ: I think that is an important step, but I think that there needs to be—that it’s not going to solve the problem about everyone who’s being forced to migrate in the first place. And so, when you’re looking at inequalities, structural impunity in our countries, related to historical injustices, that’s where things need to also be addressed, because people will continue to come, whether or not ICE is on the border. And so, yes, abolish ICE, but also look at the root causes of why our people are forced to leave in the first place. No one wants to take that journey of crossing, especially children and girls who are at higher risk of rape. So, it’s a long problem.

And many of us need to come to the table. And what us, as indigenous peoples, are asking is that our particular right to meet are not ignored and that we are part of the conversation and that we can bring our solutions, that we’re doing from our communities, to the table and that we’re not confused and invisiblized by this wrong labeling of being Latino or Hispanic, because we are indigenous. We’re Native American nations.

PROTESTERS: No more deportations! Trump must go! No more deportations! Trump must go!

MARÍA TERESA LÓPEZ: My name is María Teresa López. I’m from Guatemala, from the Maya Nation, Mam. And I was a refugee here in the ’80s, and I grow my children in this country, because the war in the ’80s in my country. This is why.

CARLA WILLS: I want to ask you about the 20-year-old Mayan woman, Claudia Patricia Gómez González. She was murdered at the border.

MARÍA TERESA LÓPEZ: One month ago, the young woman, she’s 20 years old, and she wants to come in this country, but crossing the border and was killed. And it’s a big, big broken heart for me, because it’s my neighbor village. It’s now all—plus the tension in many places in the border, and so many young women, young men, they speak just their own native language.

CARLA WILLS: You came here in the '80s from Guatemala. Can you talk about the conditions that you were fleeing from Guatemala? Talk about what life was like there, and was there—and the U.S.'s involvement.

MARÍA TERESA LÓPEZ: [translated] In 1954, when the Eisenhower government performed a coup d’état against the democratic government of Jacobo Árbenz, and there began the infiltration by the U.S. with the Guatemalan government, this is when I was only 3 years old. Then, during the ’60s, every time the situation would become difficult, there was no work for people. There were kidnappings, and no one knew why. In the ’70s, the people began to organize to defend themselves, because they had stolen lots of land. The army was occupying large parts of the land where Mayan families lived. Then, toward the end of the ’70s, the massacre of Panzós happened, because they had found oil in those lands. And that was the first massacre, and that is how it first happened. This is how we lived for 36 years of war, that was called the armed internal conflict.

During the '80s, when I arrived in this country, I had to tell everyone about the massacres, the forced kidnappings, the poisoning of the water, the policy of scorched earth—in other words, the killing of the people, their animals and their crops. And this is what Ríos Montt did. Many governments came and went, but the situation of Guatemala only worsened. There were over 200,000 refugees living in Mexico and many more displaced. And we managed to come to this country, but that isn't to say that I forget my mother country or my people. I began to speak out and denounce the injustices that we had lived through.

PROTESTERS: No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!

AMERICA FERRERA: My name is America Ferrera. And I am here not only as a brand-new mother, as the child, the proud child, of Honduran immigrants, and not only as an American who sees it as her duty to be here defending justice. I am here as a human being, with a beating heart, who can feel pain, who understands compassion and who can easily imagine what it must feel like to struggle the way families are struggling right now. It is easy to imagine that I would hope that if it was my family being torn apart, if it was my brother being arbitrarily criminalized, if it was my sister being banned, then someone would stand up for me and my family. It is that simple. This fight does not belong to one group of people, one color of people, one race of people, one gender. It belongs to all of us.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!

LISA FITHIAN: My name is Lisa Fithian. I live in Austin, Texas, right now. And I came here to D.C. actually earlier this week to get arrested with over 630 women in the Hart Senate Office Building, to say we need to abolish ICE and end “zero tolerance” and to end these detention camps. I’m here today to be part of this national day of action that is happening in over 700 cities and this massive convergence here in Washington, again, saying families belong together. This is inhumane policies that this government is pursuing, across the board. It’s been a really devastating week for justice, with all these decisions. And this is the kind of resistance that we need.

CARLA WILLS: Were you were arrested on Thursday?

LISA FITHIAN: I was, over 630 of us. You know, first we shut down the Department of Justice.

PROTESTERS: Raise your fist! Women all around, raise your fist!

LISA FITHIAN: Then we took over the atrium at the Hart Senate Office Building. It was a beautiful, beautiful rising up of women, you know, dropping banners, chanting “Where are the children?” taking out the space blankets, being together. You know, we knew that we had to become and model that there is such a thing as a beloved community and that we do care. And I think we did it in just an extraordinary way. I’ve had women coming up to me today saying, “My life has changed since Thursday,” you know, in tears, because, you know, when we stand up in solidarity with other people, we’re actually healing ourselves, as well. And, you know, that was an action of a lot of privileged white women who know, deep down inside, that they have a role to play, and it’s not about being saviors or protectors. It’s about actually doing our own healing, accessing our power, making sure there’s space for other people, people of color, to make decisions about their own lives and have access to resources they need to do that. And it was a tremendous act of solidarity and love.

SEBI MEDINA-TAYAC: Hi. My name’s Sebi Medina-Tayac, I’m from here. I’m from Washington, D.C. I’m a member of the Piscataway Indian Nation and the International Indigenous Youth Council.

And this demonstration is on our land. The White House is on our land.

I was invited to do a land acknowledgment, which means that I was invited to come and say, “OK, right now we’re on the ancestral homelands of my people, the Piscataway Indian Nation.” And when you do a land recognition, it totally changes the conversation, because when you recognize the history of the land and you recognize that this is not a white nation, this has never been a white nation, that this land has always had brown people and that this continent has no natural walls or barriers, then it starts to make you rethink what the foundation of these cruel immigration policies are.

It’s important to note that most immigrant families are not separated by Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. That is the most dramatic, cruel and recent expression of something that’s been going on for centuries. But particularly I want to talk about what’s been going on for the past few decades, under the Bush, Obama and Clinton administrations. We didn’t talk about incarceration of kids back then. We’re talking about it now because of this policy which affected thousands of families, and it’s really important that we stand against it. But it’s important to recognize that our whole immigration system, whether we have a raging lunatic as a president or a friendly black progressive as a president, are still separating families and killing people.

PROTESTERS: No ban! No wall! Sanctuary for all!

REV. TRACI BLACKMON: My name is Reverend Traci Blackmon, executive minister of justice and local church ministries for the United Church of Christ. And I stand on behalf of our mothers and fathers and grandparents and ancestors who have carried us time and time again through these iron curtains of white nationalism. I stand as the descendant of enslaved black women whose children were ripped from their nursing breast and loving arms. And I stand as a mother, on behalf of the sacredness of family, God’s first holy unit. I have come this morning, my friends, to remind us that we have been here before. I know it feels brand new, but it’s not. We have been here before. America has been here before. Black and brown people, who have been historically oppressed and marginalized in this country and erased from our historical narrative, we have been here before!

JAMILA BENKATO: My name is Jamila. I’m from Houston, Texas, but I live here in D.C. My sign says that I’m a proud daughter of an immigrant from a travel-ban country and that you’re stuck with me and that I vote. My dad is from Libya. My family is in Libya. And Supreme Court was wrong, and Trump is wrong. And I think that our policies are anti-humanitarian and immoral. The travel ban is a Muslim ban. It’s a racist policy. It was enacted with animus towards Muslims and with discriminatory intent. And it is an effort to separate and demonize and dehumanize brown people from other parts of the world, who need our help and who often need our help because of situations that we’ve created.

Trump ran on a platform of racism and bigotry. These are things that the right has supported for years, and they have their man. And he’s doing what he said he would do. And I think they are connected in that it is—and we see this with Jeff Sessions. He is living his dream. He is finally getting to enact policies that actually harm, hurt and kill black and brown people. And the Muslim ban is one of those policies. Family separation is another.

PROTESTERS: This is what democracy looks like! Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!

BERTA ARROYO: [translated] My name is Berta Arroyo. I’m from Mexico, and I’m here in D.C. supporting the families that have been separated by these horrific immigration laws. My sign was made by my 5-year-old daughter. It says, “We don’t want to see families separated, and we don’t want ICE to continue terrorizing our families, Latinos or anyone from across the world.” It’s unfair and inhuman. Our families are terrorized. And the way the families and the children are suffering is totally unnecessary, and we want this to stop.

Donald Trump, you are the worst president in U.S. history. We don’t want you here in D.C. I live here, and I’m dreaming of seeing your exit, because all you have done is terrorize our Mexican, Muslim brothers and our brothers from all countries.

PROTESTERS: Raise your fist! Raise your fist! Now is the time! Now is the time!

AMY GOODMAN: Special thanks to Democracy Now!’s Carla Wills, John Hamilton and Chris Belcher.

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Thousands in New York March Against Family Separation, Immigration Crackdown at Border

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