Protesters gathered outside the Wallace Bennett Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City Thursday night to chant and express their ire at U.S. immigration policies that separate migrant children from their parents.
“What do we do when immigrant and refugee families are under attack?” a demonstrator shouted.
“Unite and fight back!” the crowd responded. “We’re immigrants, we’re loud, we're organized and we're proud!”
“We’re seeing children taken away from their parents,” Marlen Olmedo said before the demonstration. “Who’s going to be their voice?”
The gathering was the local version of a string of nationwide protests taking place in more than 60 cities on June 14. Dubbed “Families Belong Together,” the organizers’ website states that the group “opposes the cruel, inhumane and unjustified separation of children from their parents along the U.S. border with Mexico and at other ports of entry into the U.S.”
The Trump Administration recently announced a “zero tolerance policy” for illegal immigration, threatening the criminal prosecutions of individuals and families who illegally cross the border. “If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in an early-May press conference in San Diego. “If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you, as required by law.”
Earlier this week, Sessions ruled that gang violence and domestic abuse were not credible claims for asylum, narrowing the legal standards asylum seekers must meet in order to get immigration benefits, and likely lessening the chance that migrants from Central American countries will be granted asylum.
“The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune,” Sessions wrote.
In a moment of bravery, artist Ella Mendoza stood outside the federal building and proudly declared not only her immigration status—undocumented—but also her humanity. “My life could have been so much different if I had just been allowed to grow old with my mother. But I do believe I was brought here with a purpose: I do believe I was brought here to create something bigger,” Mendoza declared. “I am still undocumented. But I’m not just undocumented, unafraid and apologetic, you know? I’m also really scared and really awkward, and honestly somehow Americanized sometimes. I’m also very human.”
Erica Rojas went to the protest with her husband and 8-month-old son. “You don’t have to be a parent to feel disgust and anger, to see how these children are being treated,” she said before looking down at her son, sitting in a stroller. “I cannot imagine what it would be like to be separated from him.”
Carl Moore, chairperson of Peaceful Advocates for Native American Dialogue and Organizing Support and Salt Lake City Air Protectors, led an indigenous prayer after telling the crowd circling around him that this policy isn’t the first time the U.S. government has separated families.
“This has happened with us, as well,” Moore said.
Songs were sung, chants were yelled, speeches were given. The two-hour demonstration ended with a moving song—“We are singing for our lives.” The crowd sang and hummed along as the sun slowly set.
Rev. Tom Goldsmith of First Unitarian Church, was among the speakers. Like everyone who addressed the crowd, he railed against the U.S.’ immigration policies, calling out the hypocrisy of leaders’ stressing of “family values.”
“We resist because we have hope,” Goldsmith said. “Bless you all.”