A few thousand people stood outside the Idaho State Capitol on Saturday to take part in Boise's "Families Belong Together" rally, one of hundreds of such events across the country, part of a nationwide movement protesting the controversial "zero tolerance policy" affecting families detained at the Mexican border.
The message? To bring children and parents who have been separated back together.
The rally was put together by nine organizations, including the ACLU of Idaho, PODER of Idaho, Idaho Voices for Children and Indivisible Boise Chapter One. Poder is Spanish for "can," but the organization's name is also an acronym for "Protecting Our Dreams and Empowering Resilience." PODER of Idaho estimated that 5,000 people took part.
“It’s very important for us to be out here today so we can defend the rights of those seeking refuge from the dangers they are facing in their homes," PODER of Idaho cofounder Irene Ruiz said. "It’s important for us to realize they’re human beings. What they’re doing is inhumane and not right.”
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In early May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the United States would separate families caught trying to enter the country at the Mexican border rather than keep them together while detained. President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the policy on June 20, but reports say that more than 2,000 children remain separated from their parents.
The initial policy, the conditions of U.S. detention centers and the remaining separations have sparked outrage. Saturday's protest was an effort to stop inhumane practices and create better immigration laws, said Rod Couch, cofounder of Indivisible Boise Chapter One, part of the national Indivisible organization "to resist the Trump agenda." The damage that occurs when separating a young child from a parent is irreparable, Couch said.
“They are turning the United States into the Soviet Union," Couch said. "People may think they have their freedoms, and they do right now, but they’re gradually disappearing, or there’s threats of them disappearing. The way that they’re treating people at the border is typical of how a Third World country would act, not the great United States of America.”
People of all ages held signs with messages that ranged from clever puns to the profane. Some participants held giant cutouts of the monarch butterfly, representing free migration.
The rally was peaceful, according to Boise police officers at the scene. There were a few dissenters.
It’s important for Idahoans to be part of the national discussion, Ruiz said: "We might be small, but we are proud, we care about our immigration community, we care about our refugee communities."
Candidate attends, cannot speak
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan attended the rally. PODER of Idaho organizer Estefania Mondragon, the rally's host, said Jordan's campaign had hoped that the candidate could speak at the event, but organizers told the campaign beforehand that politicians would not speak.
However, a Jordan volunteer walked up to Mondragon as she was speaking on the Capitol steps. She said to the crowd, "I'm sorry, but this man is harassing us." She looked at the volunteer and said, "Can you please leave?"
The volunteer walked away but later yelled, "I wanted to hear from Paulette Jordan. That's it."
Mondragon replied, "This is not a political, a politician rally. This is a rally about kids."