Women’s March activists and their partners have decided it’s time for some “good trouble.” An estimated 1,000 women have gathered in D.C. today for an act of “mass civil disobedience” at the seat of power to protest protest the federal government’s policy of family detention for asylum seekers and immigrants.
The protestors, who dressed in white, marched from D.C.’s Freedom Plaza this morning to the Department of Justice where they held a sit-in, are calling for immediate reunification of families who were separated at the border under President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, as well as the end to all family detention and the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers.
Organizers say that people have traveled from 48 states, and many of them have never engaged in a protest like this before. Some were trained in non-violent civil disobedience training Wednesday night, according to the Women's March twitter account. Before the march, Congresswomen Nydia Velasquez and Pramila Jayapal rallied the crowds with speeches. According to Women's March co-president, Bob Bland, the protest came together over the past week.
The zero tolerance policy, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, requires the criminal prosecution of anyone who enters the U.S. illegally. Migrant families were separated as a result of the policy, but after intense backlash, Trump signed an executive order to keep migrant families together. But activists say the current executive order doesn’t do much to remedy the problems; at least 2,000 children are still being held in detention centers, some many states away, from their parents. “All the order says is that instead of separating families, instead of putting parents in one cage and children in another, he would keep them together indefinitely in detention, ” Ana Maria Archila, 38, co-executive director for the Center for Popular Democracy Action, tells Refinery29 via phone after speaking to the crowd in front of the DOJ. "The zero tolerance policy is still in effect."
Archila adds that as a mother to two children aged 3 and 6, and as an immigrant herself , who came to the U.S. more than 20 years ago from Colombia, she was moved to act. "There are children as young as my children in a detention center in my home city of New York right now. I want to make sure this is a home for everyone where people are able to live a life of dignity. I want to make sure my children know that when evil was happening I did whatever I could."
Yesterday a federal judge in California ordered the end to family separation as well, on top of ordering that all families be reunited within 30 days, with a status hearing set for July 6.
Activists say that there are still too many questions about how exactly families will be reunited as the administration hasn't released specific plans. They also say that beyond the specific issue of family detention, they are protesting the broader immigration enforcement apparatus that criminalizes undocumented people. "This has been going on for a long time, but we are now at a moment where people are starting to see what immigration enforcement looks like in this country. It looks like people in cages, babies in cages crying out for their mothers," Archila says. "This is a turning point. All of these women from across the country, of all backgrounds, are here to say: This is not who we want to be, and we will put our bodies on the line to change it."
Among the demands of the protestors is the abolishment of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the government agency founded in 2003 to enforce the detainment and deportation of undocumented people.
"We want to draw the connection between this family separation, and all forms of family separation," says Bob Bland, co-president of Women's March, Inc., which grew out of the 2017 Women's March on Washington. "When we talk about family separation we're not just talking about the 3,700 children currently separated from their parents over the zero tolerance policy. We are referring to the Muslim ban. We reject separating people in those countries from being able to be with their families here. We are referring to all of the Black and brown families that have been separated by our unjust criminal justice system."
As of press time, protesters were moving into the Atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. No arrests have been made so far, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Update: The story was updated to reflect the name of the organization is Center for Popular Democracy Action.