WASHINGTON — Protesters marched into Lafayette Square opposite the White House on Saturday and chanted “families belong together” to counter President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, and were joined in declaring that message by dozens of other rallies from New York to California. While the occupant of the White House was away for the weekend at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, images of the rallies were broadcast by cable news networks throughout the day.
Animated by what they view as the cruel treatment of migrants seeking refuge in the United States from violence in their home countries, the crowds turned out Saturday bearing homemade signs that read “Abolish ICE” — the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — and “Zero tolerance for family separation.”
For two sisters, Claudia Thomas and Monica Escobar, the sight of immigrant children being taken from their parents hit close to home. When they were young, they immigrated to the United States from Guatemala, one of several Central American countries that is a source of migrants today. They said they were out at Saturday’s protest in the nation’s capital to stand up for “human decency.”
“No human being should be going through what they’re going through,” Ms. Escobar said. “God bless those families.”
While Washington was the political epicenter of the protests, similar scenes unfolded in cities around the country, including large, border cities like El Paso, state capitals like Salt Lake City and Atlanta, and smaller, interior towns like Redding, Calif. In total, organizers anticipated more than 700 protests, in all 50 states and even internationally.
The protests were largely peaceful, though there were a few arrests.
In Huntsville, Ala., police said one man was arrested after he got into a scuffle with protesters and pulled out a handgun; no one was injured. In Columbus, Ohio, one person was arrested on a charge of obstructing official business, police said. And the Dallas Police Department said five people were arrested during a protest outside of an ICE building.
Otherwise, the protests caused few disturbances as demonstrators descended on statehouses and Immigration and Customs Enforcement buildings, and gathered in plazas and in parks, where they danced, chanted and sang. Many clutched signs in one hand with messages berating Mr. Trump and his immigration policies. And, given the summer heat, many clutched water bottles in the other hand, as they sweltered under temperatures that across much of the United States crept into the 90s.
In Chicago, all police stations, fire departments and hospitals opened as cooling stations, and in Washington fire trucks misted attendees with water, to cheers.
Celebrities like Kerry Washington, star of the hit ABC series “Scandal,” and the comedian Amy Schumer joined the protests in New York, and politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, joined the demonstration in Boston. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton,” and Alicia Keys, the singer, songwriter and pianist, performed in Washington.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order on June 20 meant to quell outrage over the separation of families by housing parents and children together, for an indefinite period, in ad hoc detention centers. The order explicitly states that the authorities will continue to criminally prosecute adults who cross the border illegally.
Many of the more than 2,300 children separated from their migrant parents remain at makeshift shelters and foster homes. Although a federal judge in San Diego issued an order on Tuesday calling for the reunification of families separated at the border within 30 days, White House officials have said that following the ordered timetable would be difficult.
“We don’t want a situation where we’re replacing baby jails with family camps,” said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for MoveOn, a progressive advocacy organization that helped organize the protest.
The Washington rally was in many ways a festive affair, a moment of unification under a scorching sun. One protester arrived dressed as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; another wore a shirt saying “It’s Mueller time,” a reference to the special counsel leading the inquiry into Russian meddling in the election.
Adam Unger, a local software engineer, wore a five-gallon bucket turned into a drum, with a felt covering depicting an American flag with the insignia of the Rebel Alliance from “Star Wars” replacing the stars. “This drum has gotten its use over the last year and a half,” Mr. Unger said. He first used it to protest Mr. Trump’s travel ban on people from several predominantly Muslim countries when it was announced in January 2017.
Some showed up because they said they were angry; others, because they said they had not been angrier sooner. Maggie Mason, a new mother, said that for two weeks she could not go on Facebook because of news stories about children in detention centers, such as the audio published by ProPublica of immigrant children crying after being separated from their parents. Now, with her 7-week-old baby sleeping in the stroller next to her, she said it was time to come out.
Over the past month, marches across the country have cropped up, adding to the pressure on the Trump administration to yield to calls to end the practice of splitting up or detaining families.
“The idea of kids in cages and asylum seekers in prisons and moms being separated from breast-feeding children, this is just beyond politics, it really is just about right and wrong,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington State. On Thursday, she was arrested with more than 500 other women who occupied a Senate office building as part of a Women’s March protest against Mr. Trump’s immigration policy.
Ms. Jayapal said she has visited a federal prison just south of Seattle and met with 174 women and several dozen men who had been transferred from the Texas border. She said she was moved by the stories of asylum seekers and parents — stories of family members killed, of children left behind, of violent physical attacks and domestic abuse.
“I promised them that I would get their stories out and I promised them I would do everything I could to reunite their families,” Ms. Jayapal said.
In New York, protesters overflowed Foley Square in Lower Manhattan and filled the surrounding sidewalks. At every intersection on the way to the central march location, clusters of people chanted, “When children are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
Crowds also inched across the Brooklyn Bridge, a little more than a mile long, for more than two hours. On one side, in Brooklyn, protesters filed into Cadman Plaza, where people stood in the center or sat in the shade, displaying colorful signs and listening to speakers onstage.
“We were walking by cars and all the people driving were honking, giving us the peace sign, shaking fists,” said Laura Rittenhouse, who lives in Manhattan and walked across the bridge. “The most important question is what is the process to reunite these families?” she asked.
Carmela Huang, from Brooklyn, brought her two young children to the march. Both children were carrying rectangular cardboard signs they had made this morning that read “REUNITE” in large sharpie letters.
Ms. Huang said they had not been to a protest yet in 2018. “But today feels really important,” she said. “I’ve had my head in the sand, just feeling tremendously sad.” She described the march as “reassuring, energizing and rejuvenating.”
Some protesters carried rainbow umbrellas and blew bubbles, while a trombone player accented chants of activists.
Sadatu Mamah-Trawill, a community organizer with the group African Communities Together, brought her 9-year-old son to the protest. A Muslim woman, Ms. Mamah-Trawill said she still had family in Ghana, her place of birth, and could not imagine being separated from her children.
“I’m hoping our government hears us very clearly,” she said. “This is big. I don’t think anybody should miss it.”
A small group of mostly women and children rallied in Marquette, Mich., in one of the few counties in the state that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Silke-Maria Weineck, a German studies and comparative literature professor at the University of Michigan, dressed her service dog, Meemo, with an “Abolish ICE” sign for the occasion.
“It’s certainly a conservative part of the country,” she added, “but people feel very strongly about their children.”
Outside the Bedminster country club where Mr. Trump was spending the weekend, a few protesters could be seen. “My civility is locked in a cage,” said one sign. “Reunite families now.”
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