Galvanized by the images and voices of migrant children separated from their parents by President Trump’s immigration policies, hundreds of thousands took to the streets Saturday in major cities and small towns across America to express outrage that they hope will carry over into the fall election.
From coast to coast, several hundred rallies dubbed Families Belong Together ranged from the large and boisterous — thousands clogging the Brooklyn Bridge in New York — to more modest ones, such as a protest that drew about 200 people to a street corner in West Hartford, Conn.
In Los Angeles, tens of thousands assembled in front of City Hall just before noon in a star- and politician-studded rally that centered on messages of humanity and empathy transcending borders. Organizers said they were not only protesting the separation of families but also Trump policies “criminalizing” migrants and leaving in limbo the fate of those protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded from deportation young immigrants brought here illegally when they were children.
“Human rights should have no border!” one protester yelled at the start of the L.A. rally, as children waved signs that read: “Familia, sí! Trump, no, no, no!” and “Love cannot be stopped.”
“When we have children in cages crying for their mommies and daddies, we know we are better than this,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told the crowd. “When we know those children will suffer lifelong trauma, and that this is not reflective of a civil society, we know we are better than this.”
Many marchers were veterans of protests against other Trump administration policies, including the Women’s March and the March for Science, but some were newly energized to speak up. For Debbie Greenspan, a protest Saturday in Hollywood, Fla., was the first demonstration she ever attended.
“I just can’t bear babies being taken from their parents or even putting the whole family in jail,” Greenspan said. “I mean, what is wrong with these people? It’s beyond comprehension.”
In Washington, thousands of people braved intense heat to march through the National Mall and rally across from the White House. Actress Diane Guerrero, star of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” recounted her own immigration experience before the crowd.
“Do we want to be an America that values children and families?” she asked. “This time the stakes are too visible ... too well-documented to be ignored.”
Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy has come under fire in recent weeks after it resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents or guardians crossing the border. Trump last week announced that the administration would end the policy, but the government has reunited only a small handful of the families involved.
Administration officials revealed Friday in court filings before a federal judge in Los Angeles that rather than separate families, they now plan to hold parents and children together in indefinite detention as they await their court dates.
As the overcast morning gave way to a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, protesters dressed in white chanted: “Where are the children?”
Jimmy “Taboo” Gomez of the musical group Black Eyed Peas riled up the crowd with the hit song “Where is the Love?” Gomez told the protesters that the song was written in the aftermath of 9/11. “And so many years later, in 2018, we’re still asking the same questions: Where is the love?” he said.
Among those who later took to a megaphone was Antonio Lopez, who carried a large American flag and a sign that predicted “lots of work for the lawyers of this country.”
He said Trump deserves to be jailed for his immigration policies.
“Donald Trump is kidnapping those kids,” he said. “It’s a violation of the Constitution.”
Speakers turned Trump’s immigration policy on its head and said it was the administration that should get “zero tolerance” for separating families, jailing asylum seekers and violating migrants’ due process rights. When one speaker led the crowd in a chant of “Trump, where’s your heart?” Lopez said, “No lo tiene” — he doesn’t have one.
Litzy Del Valle, 17, and five of her friends — all children of Mexican immigrants — woke up at 6 a.m. to secure spots at the rally. They wore matching shirts that said “No somos criminales” — we aren’t criminals.
Del Valle said her parents came to the U.S. in 1986 fleeing poverty in Puebla, Mexico. Her dad trekked through the desert to get here. He now works in construction, and her mother as a cashier, all for a better life for their children, she said. Since Trump’s election, dismayed by the rhetoric on immigrants, they’ve been talking about returning to Puebla, where her father has been paying off a plot of land, Del Valle said.
As she prepares to start college in the fall, Del Valle said she worries that her parents won’t get to witness her success.
“To think I have a home and a roof over my head because of what they did — it inspires me to build a better America so no one has to go through that,” she said.
Protesting alongside teenagers like Del Valle was 86-year-old Armony Share of Sherman Oaks, who had a more historical perspective in her criticism of the Trump administration for what she said was its lack of compassion for those fleeing crime and persecution in their home countries.
“The Jews were turned away [from America] when they were able to escape from Europe in World War II,” she said. “Are we doing the same thing to these people? When you’re against one group, you’re against all of them.”
Share’s parents, who are Russian and Polish, fled brewing anti-Semitism in the 1920s. She was born in Mexico and eventually found her home in the U.S. in 1941.
Even though she doesn’t expect the Trump administration to hear the message of Saturday’s marches, Share said she felt she had to voice her opposition.
“If you’re silent, you’re complicit,” she said.
Groups that joined forces to put together the Los Angeles rally included the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. In addition to Harris, politicians including Mayor Eric Garcetti and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for governor, spoke at the rally.
Singer-songwriter John Legend sang his message, performing a new song written for the occasion called “Preach.” He urged people to take action, saying that it’s not enough to preach. He told the crowd that migrants should be seen “as human beings who deserve the chance to flourish.”
“It requires you see through the eyes of another,” he said. “You can’t just talk about it, or read about it. You’ve got to do something!”
The midterm elections were on the minds of protesters all over the country. In Dallas, marchers carried signs reading, “November is coming.” In Denver, protesters at the state Capitol chanted: “Vote them out! Vote them out!”
“I think it’s very important to keep this energy going,” said Jason Moses, 44, of Denver. “It’s a great motivating factor for the November elections.”
Many marchers said the issue was deeply personal.
In West Hartford, Christine Brea said she was moved to join the rally partly because her grandmother was a Navajo separated from her parents in childhood.
“It seems history is repeating itself,” Brea said. “I’m heartbroken.”
Marching in Chicago was Margo Chavez-Easley, who immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala with her mother when she was 9.
“To be an immigrant and an American, I feel a mix of pride and shame,” Chavez-Easley said. “... That’s a child’s biggest fear, is to lose their mom and dad.”
Protesting side by side in Denver were Henny Pattirane, 26, an immigrant from Indonesia, and her friend Joseline Umulisa, also 26, an immigrant from Rwanda.
Umulisa said she was moved to tears when she thought about what some immigrants had been through.
“The only reason you were born here is because you were lucky,” she said. “I came out today because I had to do something, and it beats crying in your bed.”
Times staff writers Castillo, Xia and Kim reported from Los Angeles, and special correspondent Kelly reported from Denver. Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington and the Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant and South Florida Sun-Sentinel contributed to this report.