Editor’s Note: Since publication, the N&O has learned that passages from this story were taken in large part or in whole from “The facts about Trump’s policy of separating families at the border” by the Washington Post without attribution. This is a violation of our standards. We apologize to our readers.
Crowds gathered in downtown Raleigh on Saturday to march and rally for families separated at the country’s border with Mexico to be reunited.
The event was part of a nationwide protest against a Trump administration policy that has separated more than 2,000 children from families seeking asylum at the border.
The national Families Belong Together March began at 11 a.m. in Lafayette Square in the nation’s capital, just across from the White House. Raleigh was one of more than 700 cities and towns across the country holding sister marches and rallies.
Raleigh residents Gale Hooker and Judy Brannon stood proudly in a shaded area while waiting for the Raleigh march to begin. They came to voice their concerns with their granddaughter, Zoe Brannon, a 16-year-old Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School student.
Hooker, who rarely misses a march in Raleigh, held a sign quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Brannon held a sign saying, “Women must govern to save America.”
The grandmothers beamed as they shared that their granddaughter was by their side.
“I’m here for my grandbaby,” Hooker said. “I’ve got four granddaughters and I just think we can’t go back. As they say nowadays, we need to ‘stay woke.’”
Zoe Brannnon’s sign addressed many of the country’s hot topics — “Children in Cages,” “School Shootings,” “Families Separating,” “Losing Our Rights,” “Unarmed Black Men/Boys Killed,” “#MeToo.”
“I think all the young people need to know what’s going on in our world because we are the future,” the teen said.
Some of the protesters wore shirts or held up signs meant to counter the message on the jacket that first lady Melania Trump wore as she embarked on a June 21 trip to a Texas children’s center amid the ongoing immigration debate.
“I really do care, do you?” was written on the back of one man’s T-shirt.
Other signs and messages included:
“Free the kids, cage Trump.”
“No human is illegal.”
“God bless America and immigrants.”
“How is child abuse a policy?”
One woman wrote “We” on the palm of one hand and “care” on the other and held them up for all to see.
The attention on the southern border arises over a policy shift this spring by the Trump administration.
Since 2014, hundreds of thousands of children and families have fled to the United States seeking asylum because of rampant violence and gang activity in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. U.S. laws provide asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants, but Trump and others in his administration say smugglers, gang members and others are exploiting the laws to get into the United States.
With the uptick in border crossings, the Trump administration imposed a “zero tolerance” policy in the spring and detained immigrants caught crossing into the country outside specific points of entry.
As thousands of protesters gathered across the country, hundreds of people marched a half-mile from City Plaza in Raleigh to the Bicentennial Mall between the state Capitol building and the N.C. Legislative Building.
In the 90-degree heat, some of the protesters left the rally early. Others stayed to hear the speeches and two themes the organizers asked those gathered to take with them.
“Families Belong Together,” the crowd chanted.
“Remember in November” was the follow-up to urge people to vote in the 2018 elections.
Dr. Gerri Mattson, a pediatrician, talked to the crowd about her concerns about the “toxic stress” that immigrant children are experiencing. “It is toxic and its effects are long-lasting,” Mattson said, adding that healing from such stress at a young age requires lots of time.
Becky Bowen was one of the many mothers marching against family separation. Bowen adopted her now 13-year-old daughter, Isabella, from Guatemala when she was 6 months old.
When President Donald Trump was elected, the Raleigh resident said, her daughter was taunted at school the very next day.
“She came home that day, and the kids on the bus told her she had to go back to Mexico. She came home upset, and she said, ‘Mommy, over your dead body, right?’” said Bowen. “I was like ‘you’re fine.’ I don’t know if she’s fine anymore.”
Bowen asked her daughter if this is what they had learned in school. “I’m very disappointed in our country right now because I’ve learned that immigrants made the country,” said Isabella.
Brenda Sebers, a 31-year-old mother and immigrant from Mexico, held her son’s hand as they marched in Raleigh. The narrative she’s hearing in the media is a familiar one. Sebers immigrated to the United States when she was just 13 years old. She was undocumented, and it took her 13 more years to become an American citizen.
“It feels amazing to be heard and feel like my voice is heard,” said Sebers, a Raleigh resident. “I was actually calling my representatives and senators and asking them to support the reunification of families.”
Sebers said she hopes the rally educates people who might not know too much about the family separation along the U.S. southern border.
“Just the emotional state that they might be in being away from their parents,” Sebers said. “I was thinking about my son and I know he would freak out completely if I wasn’t around for a day.”
The images and sounds of the children in the detention facilities tore at the hearts of sisters Mariana Lopez, 20, and Lucera Lopez, 24, two Thomasville residents in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
They came to this country from Mexico when they were 5 years old and 8. They brought their father to the rally with them.
“Just to think about me being ripped away from my parents, I don’t think I could handle it,” Mariana said. “We have lost what it is to be a human. It’s no longer humane. Their hatred is moving to kids now.”
They worry about the long-term impact such treatment will have not only on the children but for their attitudes toward the country that separated them from their families.
“Instead of actually fixing something, it’s going to create more problems,” Lucera said.