At least 7,000 people marched across downtown Minneapolis in stifling heat Saturday afternoon to protest U.S. immigration policies that they called cruel and unnecessary.
The Families Belong Together protest, part of a nationwide day of demonstrations against the treatment of people along the U.S.-Mexican border, began outside the Minneapolis Convention Center and grew to pack at least six city blocks, with participants chanting in both English and Spanish.
"This is what needs to be happening all over the country," said Ben Ramirez, an activist with Asamblea de Derechos Civiles. "What we're seeing here is a tipping point."
The demonstration, one of hundreds across the country, was organized nearly two weeks ago in response to a Trump administration policy that separated and detained families found illegally crossing the southern border. The policy was later reversed and the federal government now plans to keep families detained together indefinitely while they await decisions on their cases, according to a new court filing.
For the protesters — many dressed in shorts and some carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun — the policy reversal was not enough. They demanded that the government reunite separated families. Chants of "Abolish ICE" (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) rang from a contingent of marchers in the street.
The rally began at the Convention Center and then paraded down Marquette Avenue.
Despite the heat, the mood was decidedly upbeat, even joyous, and the distinctive coconut scent of sunscreen wafting through downtown lent a festive air.
A makeshift float atop a trailer featuring a "cage" of chain-link fencing — meant to represent the confinements faced by many migrant families — led the demonstrators. Outside its walls, James Gutierrez, 15, and his sister, Lilah, 8, wore chains on their arms and legs.
"We're here to stop [children] from being put in cages," James said.
Activists carried a variety of homemade signs protesting Trump policies and actions on immigration. Slogans included, "We as a country are in a moral crisis, not a border crisis" and "Moms Against Baby Prisons." Many people had signs taped to their backs that referred to the words "I really don't care, do U?" on the back of a jacket that first lady Melania Trump wore recently. "I care!!!!" read many T-shirts.
The procession stopped in front of the Hennepin County jail to jeer at the county sheriff, chanting "Richard Stanek, you can't hide; we can see your racist side!"
The Sheriff's Office asks inmates if they were born in another country, in keeping with state and federal law, but doesn't forward that information to ICE, according to Julianne Ortman, Stanek's chief of staff. If inmates tells jail officials that they were born elsewhere, they're given the option of calling ICE, she said, but suffer no consequences if they decline.
ICE typically finds out about foreign-born inmates jailed locally through fingerprints forwarded to the agency by the FBI, which in turn gets them from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Along the march route, hundreds watched from parking garages and skyways, some of them also waving signs.
Mahmoud Fall, 33, a native of Senegal who moved to Minnesota 13 years ago to attend college, marched alongside his wife, Lydia Fall, 31, and their friend Devin Clarkson, 36.
"It doesn't matter what way you came here or why, it's a matter of being human," Mahmoud Fall said. "We need to treat people in the same light."
Clarkson urged more Americans to join their cause. "A peaceful protest is the best way to send a message to elected officials," he said.
Organizers also used the opportunity to denounce a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week that upheld Trump's travel ban, which affects several mostly Muslim nations.
"We today are on the clock, the people of the nation are on the clock, to reclaim America for all people," said Jaylani Hussein of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who was among the speakers.
Scores of the demonstrators were educators in town for a National Education Association conference at the convention center. Association President Lily Eskelsen García said the trauma inflicted on children torn from their parents would not soon heal.
"It took a village to separate these children from their families," García said. "We will be the village to save them."
Diana Marcus, an instructional coach from Lowell, Mass., marched with fellow union members from the Massachusetts Teachers Association. "You don't have to be at home to do this sort of thing," she said. "Wherever the fight is, that's where you go."
Activists promised to vote during November's midterm elections and urged others to do the same.
Ken Kirwin, 77, of New Brighton, carried two signs — one picturing Vladimir Putin in a hat bearing Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," and a second that read, "Make America SANE again — keep families together." He said it was the first protest he's attended since George W. Bush's presidency, when he spoke out against the war in Iraq.
"Having little kids appear in court by themselves is just ridiculous," he said. "Get them back with their parents."
For much of the afternoon, downtown traffic was at a standstill to let the marchers pass, and Metro Transit had to halt light-rail service in downtown Minneapolis for a couple of hours.
Although the event had been scheduled to last until 6 p.m., activists circled back to the Convention Center and wrapped things up by 4 p.m. in a concession to the weather.
The Minneapolis march was organized or supported by a number of social justice organizations, including Navigate MN, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and CAIR.
Children who were separated from their families at the border began to join relatives in Minnesota earlier in June. Dozens more could be in the state by this fall, according to immigration law experts.
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