Activists march to Miami's Freedom Tower to protest the separation of immigrant families
Several hours after protesters led by Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda marched from the White House to the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., the exasperated chants and flailing picket signs reached downtown Miami on Saturday evening as critics of the Trump administration's immigration policies took to the streets in solidarity with more than 700 affiliated protests across the country.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus at around 5 p.m. — and marched down Northeast Fourth Street to the Freedom Tower — in protest of the administration's "zero-tolerance" policy of prosecuting as many immigrants caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as possible, which in turn led to more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents and guardians and taken to migrant shelters across the country — including three in Miami-Dade County. One of the shelters, located in Homestead, was the site of a large protest last week.
Marching under the banner "Families Belong Together," the Miami protesters called for President Trump to reunify fractured immigrant families as quickly as possible and criticized the administration's new plan to indefinitely detain parents with their children as the adults undergo immigration proceedings. Many of them called for the elimination of ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but most appeared centrally focused on the trauma they say children as young as toddlers have had to endure due to family separations at the border.
Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Family Action Network Movement, led much of Saturday's protest, her voice growing hoarse as she bellowed into a megaphone about the need to reunify families in a quick and transparent manner.
"There are children as young as 18 months old that have been ripped out from their moms, from their dads, and caged like animals," Bastien said. "This is not acceptable. This is unspeakable."
"This is not the America we want, this is not the America we fought for, this is not the America we will accept," she said. "We deserve better."
The coast-to-coast protests were organized by four main groups — The Leadership Conference, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Move On and the American Civil Liberties Union — but local groups handled logistics for their sister marches.
The Miami march was one of 31 demonstrations planned in Florida, according to the Families Belong Together website. A smaller gathering took place in Palmetto Bay earlier Saturday, the only other affiliated sister protest in Miami-Dade County. Events were held as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Key Largo.
Protesters flooded public streets in major cities across the country, including New York and Los Angeles. In Miami, police cruisers blocked off traffic as a swarm of chanting protestors showed the public "what Democracy looks like."
"ICE, hey! How many kids did you take today," they chanted.
Some viewed Trump's June 20 executive order ceasing family separations as a clear sign their activism had been effective thus far. Pro-immigrant demonstrators have staged many demonstrations outside immigrant shelters and detention facilities in recent weeks, and the administration's zero-tolerance policy — which was officially announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April — had been subject to biting criticism from Republicans and Democrats in the nearly two months of its existence.
In a memorandum to federal prosecutors issued April 11, Sessions urged a "renewed commitment to criminal immigration enforcement" that would deter further illegal entries. The Department of Justice at the time said the policy came as the Department of Homeland Security documented a 203 percent increase in illegal border crossings from March 2017 to March 2018.
"I don't understand how anyone can stand by it at this point," said Marie Caceres, the principal of Aspira Arts Deco Charter. Caceres, among the first protesters to arrive Saturday, held a sign that said "This is America. Do you know where your children are?"
Caceres said some of her students have suffered through the trauma of living without a parent because they were deported or still remain in their native countries.
"It makes me want to fight," she said.
Felipe Reis, a 20-year-old Brazilian immigrant and recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), addressed the crowd prior to the march. He said he was "proud to stand here today as an undocumented immigrant and unafraid."
Reis, who led an "Abolish ICE" chant, said he has lived much of his life under "constant fear" of deportation and did not want the immigrant community in South Florida to fear any longer.
"No child, no father and no mother deserves to be threatened or taken away and abused because of their status — because they're seeking refuge for their families," he said.
Standing in front of the Freedom Tower, nicknamed the "Ellis Island of the South" for its role in providing relief to Cuban refugees fleeing the regime of Fidel Castro, protestors drew honks of support as they rallied.
Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigration Coalition, delivered an impassioned speech about fighting back against Trump's immigration policies through activism.
"You can tell your grandchildren that you stood up," she said to roaring applause and cheers. "You stood up for the children. You stood up for the families."