A mini piñata resembling Pres. Donald Trump was locked inside a small cage with wheels. Two activists pushed the mini-Trump through downtown during a march that occurred after the Families Belong Together rally.
Photos by Steph Rodriguez
By Steph Rodriguez
Around 1,500 to 2,000 gathered at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building on Capitol Mall Saturday, rallying in solidarity with demonstrations scheduled throughout the country. Collectively, they were known as the “Families Belong Together & Free” protests. The Sacramento rally turned into an all-out march through the streets of downtown, the crowd ultimately stopping at the County Main Jail before looping back around to the USCIS building. With a wall of vehicles and officers on bicycles, Sacramento Police and sheriff’s deputies blocked marchers from the I Street Interstate 5 and adjacent freeway entrances.
The protest, organized by The Resistance: Sacramento/Elk Grove with help from the nonprofit Organizing for Action Sacramento, was in response to the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance enforcement policy on illegal immigration, which garnered outrage after it was reported that immigrant children were being separated from their parents at the U.S. southern border. Trump officials said last month that border agents separated around 2,342 children from their parents between May 5 and June 9. The zero-tolerance policy was adopted in April.
While advocates gathered in the hot sun or what little shade they could find for a common cause, conflict sizzled in 90-degree weather. In one moment, Julie Steinberg, a cantor with the Congregation B’nai Israel synagogue (accompanied by her husband, mayor Darrell Steinberg) was booed offstage by activists in the audience. A number of advocates yelled, “Darrell Steinberg doesn’t care about black people!”
Dennessa Atiles, who invited Mrs. Steinberg to the rally, said the incident was unfortunate.
“We did not invite any elected officials—purposely—because we wanted this event to be about the work that the community is doing,” said Atiles, director of The Resistance. “But I think there are contentions in people who are disappointed with some of the actions of the mayor, and they thought that since he was standing up there next to her, we had invited him to speak and they booed her off stage.”
Despite the short hiccup, audience members heard from speakers including Tomas Evangelista, the co-founder of the California Dreamers, Basim Elkarra, the director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (he’s also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Trump administration in response to its first travel ban on Muslim-majority countries), and Holocaust survivor Bernard Marks. Each shared their personal stories and support for reuniting families separated at the southern border.
Men, women and children marched downtown on Saturday, June 30, after the Families Belong Together rally and gathered in front of the Sacramento County Jail. Many chanted, “No Justice! No Peace!” and “Abolish ICE!”
On June 20, Pres. Trump signed an executive order maintaining the zero-tolerance policy with the caveat that they would avoid separating families. As of Saturday, the administration has not released a plan to reunite the more than 2,000 children already torn from their parents.
“These are not criminals. These are asylum seekers,” said Clarissa LaGuardia, a co-leader of OFA Sacramento, at the rally. “They’re fleeing violence. They’re running for their lives. Here they are trying to preserve their lives, and here we welcome them with, ‘Let me take away your child.’”
LaGuardia described herself as a documented immigrant from El Salvador, but said she recognizes that it’s not that easy for everyone to become a U.S. citizen. And it wasn’t easy for her, either. She waited 20 years to obtain her citizenship after her family fled El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War. But not all of her family members were granted citizenship, leaving her and one sibling to live with relatives in the U.S. whom they’d never met.
Working and supporting her mother back home has been a severe struggle, LaGuardia said. “Having to learn the language, putting myself through school, working multiple jobs just to pay rent for an empty apartment. The people don’t know what it’s like to be an immigrant. I’m in a weird place where I’m 33, but I’m bilingual, I’m documented and I’m queer. I’m all these different things, and I’m an activist because I understand what it’s like to have nothing, and I want better for the next person. Just because it was hard for me, it doesn’t have to be for the next person.”
An activist wears clothing similar to First lady Melania Trump’s controversial jacket, an item she wore when visiting a migrant children’s detention center in Texas that sparked controversy and protests nationwide. Trump’s jacket read, “I really don’t care, do u?”
Another call-to-action campaign began on Sunday, called Mamas Week of Action. It’s being supported by the organizers of Families Belong Together, and it’s a series of events over the course of one week that encourage daily calls-to-action ranging from contacting elected officials, seeking prosecution for those in violation of human rights and protecting asylum seekers from prosecution.
For Atiles, witnessing a rally that also sparked a march showed her that people care about not only the abhorrent policies of separating families at the border and the vile conditions of the detention facilities in the U.S., but that they’re also willing to mobilize and have their voices heard for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“I saw the crowd, and I found it moving and important that there are so many people of diverse beliefs and cultures coming together to say we’re all people, and we all deserve dignity, and we will all stand together in support of one another,” Atiles said.