Over 600 marches underway across US over Trump immigration policy
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Over 600 marches underway across US over Trump immigration policy

Thousands of protesters take to the streets, motivated by accounts in recent weeks of children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border

Activists march and rally against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Trump administration's immigration policies, across the street from the ICE offices at Federal Plaza, June 29, 2018 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
Activists march and rally against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Trump administration's immigration policies, across the street from the ICE offices at Federal Plaza, June 29, 2018 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

PORTLAND, Oregon — Liberal activists, parents, and first-time protesters motivated by accounts of children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border plan to rally in hundreds of cities nationwide Saturday to press President Donald Trump’s administration to reunite the families quickly.

More than 600 marches could draw hundreds of thousands of people across the country, from immigrant-friendly cities like Los Angeles and New York City to conservative Appalachia and Wyoming, under the banner Families Belong Together.

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.”

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

A police officer looks out at demonstrators rallying against the Trump administration’s immigration policies at the federal courthouse in Brownsville, Texas, on June 28, 2018. (Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images/AFP)

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

In Boston, thousands of people were gearing up for two planned protests. The “Rally against Family Separation” is set to begin with a morning march from City Hall to Boston Common, where a large rally will take place. The protest is timed with other protests nationwide and is also meant to oppose Trump’s ban on travelers from certain Muslim-majority nations.

US Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Joe Kennedy III, both Democrats, will be among the attendees.

Saturday’s rallies are getting funding and support from the American Civil Liberties Union, MoveOn.org, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and The Leadership Conference. But local organizers are shouldering on-the-ground planning, many of them women relying on informal networks established during worldwide women’s marches on Trump’s inauguration and its anniversary.

Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the US Department of Homeland Security, welcomed interest in the immigration system and said only Congress has the power to change the law.

In this Wednesday, June 27, 2018, photo, a small group of stay-at-home mothers, with children at their sides, work to organize an immigration rally in Portland, Oregon. From left to right are Kate Sharaf, Lisa Carol Stiller, Erin Conroy, and Caely Barrett. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

“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.”

In Portland, Sharaf and other mothers who organized the rally hope to attract 5,000 people.

Right-wing activists with the group Patriot Prayer also have a permit to march later in the day Saturday and the Portland Police Bureau said Friday they planned to have a heavy police presence.

Sharaf and co-organizer Erin Conroy have coordinated with immigrant advocacy groups.

“This is not my wheelhouse,” Conroy said. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a national emergency that we all need to be focused on right now.”

Shoes and toys for immigrant children are left at the Tornillo Port of Entry near El Paso, Texas, June 21, 2018. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

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 US 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.

Immigration attorney Linda Rivas said groups have met with US authorities, congressional representatives, and other leaders to discuss an escalating immigration crackdown that they say began decades ago. But the family separation policy has been a watershed for attracting a broader spectrum of demonstrators, she said.

“To finally have people on board wanting to take action, marching, taking to the streets, it’s been motivating for us as advocates because we have to keep going,” Rivas said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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