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Hundreds of Thousands Protest “Zero-Tolerance” Policy

Jul 02, 2018

Blog Post

Joshua Kurtz, Community Organizer, AVODAH Corps Member

Protesters gathered in Lafayette Square outside the White House.

(Sarah Beller, HIAS)

Shabbat prayer service before the Families Belong Together rally.

(Sarah Beller, HIAS)

HIAS makes its presence known at the protest.

(Andrea Gagne, HIAS)

On Saturday, June 30th, hundreds of thousands of activists in more than seven hundred cities protested the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy on immigration.

Since the policy, which called for the prosecution of all individuals apprehended at a non-designated port of entry along the US-Mexico border, was announced in April, thousands of families have been separated, with children being housed in temporary shelters while their parents are detained.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen several policy changes in response to the outcry over family separation. On June 20th, President Trump signed an executive order that replaced the inhumane policy of separating parents and children at the border with the inhumane policy of detaining families indefinitely.

Just two days later a federal judge in California ordered the Trump Administration to stop separating children and reunite all families who have been separated within thirty days. Additionally, border patrol officers in certain areas have temporarily ceased referring migrants for prosecution. These changes aside, the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy remains intact, with thousands of families still separated and detained.

In the nation’s capital, over thirty thousand protestors gathered in Lafayette Square to call for an end to the “zero-tolerance” policy.

“We have three main demands,” Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org, which co-sponsored the action, told the Washington Post.  “Reunite families now, end family internment camps, and end the zero-humanity policy that created this humanitarian crisis and chaos in the first place.”

Organized by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the ACLU, several other organizations, Saturday’s protest highlighted the voices of immigrants who have been affected by the administration’s inhumane policy.

One speaker told her story of being detained and separated from her son when they immigrated to the United States from Brazil. Another speaker, a twelve-year-old girl from Florida, spoke about the stress of knowing that her mother, who is undocumented, might be confronted by immigration officials at any point.

“I don’t understand why they are being so mean to us children,” she told the crowd. “Don’t they know how much we love our families? Don’t they love their families, too?”

Other speakers included a Holocaust survivor, an individual who was held as a child in a Japanese internment camp, and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who sang a lullaby in honor of all the detained parents unable to sing to their children.

Prior to the rally, over two hundred demonstrators joined HIAS, National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), and several other Jewish organizations, for a Shabbat gathering in the AFL-CIO’s headquarters.  

Elizabeth Heyman, a DC Field Organizer with JUFJ and Joelle Novey, Director of Interfaith Power & Light in the DMV, led the crowd in song and prayer, and Faith Williams, Senior Legislative Associate with NCJW, spoke briefly about our responsibility, as Jews, to speak out against the administration’s immoral policies and actions.

In New York City, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Foley Square and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge.

At a rally in Queens, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old activist who defeated longtime New York representative Joe Crowley in last week’s primary election, expressed hope that the administration’s policies will end and urged the crowd to keep up the fight.

“We have to understand that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” she reminded demonstrators.

The Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy has galvanized activists around the nation.  HIAS staff joined rallies in Brooklyn and Washington to speak out for a fair, humane asylum system on June 14th. Last week, hundreds of activists, including Representative Pramila Jayapal, were arrested after staging a sit-in during a women-led demonstration against the administration’s policies.

“We’re standing up for real American values,” Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), told protestors during the civil disobedience. “The values that we as a nation welcome immigrants, we as a nation are stronger because of our diversity and we as a nation certainly do not rip families apart.”

Joshua Kurtz is a Community Organizer and Avodah Corps Member with HIAS. To find out what you can do right now to help asylum seekers, click here.