As thousands in cities across the nation assembled Saturday in protest of immigration policies that have separated families at the United States-Mexico border, several hundred gathered in San Antonio's Main Plaza to call for reuniting immigrant parents with their children.
Organized locally by the grassroots ACLU People Power and others, the demonstration was one of more than 700 related rallies across the country all anchored to a similar event in Washington, D.C., that drew an estimated 30,000 protesters.
Earlier in the day, another rally in nearby Travis Park brought together about 50 people on the other side of the issue. The "America First" event was held to “take a stand in support of President Trump's conservative common sense approach to safety and security at the border,” according to its organizers, the Texas Leadership Institute for Public Advocacy.
“What is the point of having a nation if you don’t have a border?” asked George Rodriguez, a conservative commentator and Tea Party member, to the group assembled in the square. “Those liberal politicians at the other [rally] will take our freedoms away. ... I don’t really care about the greater good of the community because unless as an individual I am free and have my freedoms and liberties, my personal and economic freedoms, the rest doesn’t matter.”
A half-mile away, at the “Families Belong Together” rally, protesters wore T-shirts urging people to vote, and waved U.S. flags and posters that expressed both outrage and patriotism – from “We Do Care,” and “Free Los Niños Now” to “Liberty and Justice for All.”
From the stage in front of San Fernando Cathedral, Viridiana Carrizales of the social activism group SA Rise, shouted, “We condemn the horrible policies of the Trump administration that is tearing families apart. We will not stay silent. An injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us.”
Speakers at the event included elected officials and representatives from organizations that support immigrants: Lenna Baxter of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC), Jessica Azúa of the Texas Organizing Project, Carolina Canizales of SA Stands, Cynthia Paredes of San Antonio Alliance, and Jennifer Falcon from Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).
IWC volunteers collected donations of picture books, coloring books, crayons, and translation dictionaries for detained immigrant children. More than 2,000 immigrant children are reportedly separated from their families, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) told the crowd.
“Our first priority at events like this all over the country is to get these children and their parents back together,” Doggett said, but not detained indefinitely or deported without a fair hearing.
“We are always proud in San Antonio to call ourselves Military City,” he said. “What city wants to be known as 'Internment Camp City?' Our military bases are about keeping America safe, not interfering in the lives of these families coming here to seek asylum.”
“On the eve of July fourth, that’s not what America is all about.”
A Democrat whose district includes parts of San Antonio and Austin, Doggett has criticized the Trump administration's “zero tolerance” immigration policy announced in April. The policy calls for prosecuting all undocumented immigrants crossing the border, resuting in families being separated and children held in detention centers while the adults await trial. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said earlier this week immigration officials have stopped referring for prosecution unauthorized adults who cross the border with children.
Doggett implored protesters to demonstrate, volunteer, and participate in elections. In response, protesters waved their flags and banners, and chanted, “Vote! Vote! Vote!”
State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) also spoke to the crowd, saying that as a parent, he understands that when a baby cries, “he is looking for his parents,” he said. “Babies are not looking for food. They are looking for their parents to feed them ... to comfort them. That is what this is about.”