More than 100,000 people took to the streets on June 30, in about 750 cities and towns in every state across the country, to protest the separation of immigrant children from their parents seeking asylum and denounce President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that made this cruel practice possible.
There would have undoubtedly been many more if there had been more time to get the word out – the call for these demonstrations was made only two weeks before.
While many of these actions were reported on local news, and CNN provided live coverage of the demonstrations in Washington, DC, and New York, the mainstream media did not give a feel for the actions on a national scale. The New York Times buried a superficial article on page 19.
In the nation’s capital, organisers estimated the crowd at 30,000.
US Socialist Worker reporters covered some of the other places. Their estimates were: 75,000 in Los Angeles; 50,000 in 38oC heat in Chicago; tens of thousands in New York City; tens of thousands in San Francisco and similar numbers in nearby San Jose; 15,000 in Boston; 10,000 in Seattle; 10,000 in Minneapolis; 8000 in Austin, Texas; thousands in Philadelphia; 2000 in Burlington, Vermont; 2000 in Pittsburgh; 1500 in Columbus, Ohio; 1000 in Springfield, Massachusetts; 1000 in San Diego; several thousand in Olympia, Washington; 1000 in New Orleans; 1000 in Rochester, New York; 800 in Madison, Wisconsin; 700 in Charlottesville, Virginia; and 500 in New London, Connecticut. In Athens, Ohio, 120 marched on June 29.
Of course, there were more than 700 other cities and towns where SW had no reporters.
From reports on Democracy Now! and SW it is clear that while calls for voting for Democrats in November’s midterm elections were present, the main thrust of the protesters was that the children had to be reunited with their families immediately. Many said they wanted to reach out to the imprisoned parents and children, to let them know they are not alone.
As in previous anti-Trump actions, the crowds spanned generations, were multiracial, and brought together people who had never protested before with veteran organisers and agitators. The spirit of the actions was captured by the mostly handmade signs, with messages ranging from moving responses to the horrors of the prisons housing children and infants to demands that went further.
Many raised the idea that the whole immigration system has to be redone on the basis of compassion for immigrants, encapsulated in one of the most popular slogans: “Abolish ICE!”. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the agency spearheading Trump’s campaign of terrorising immigrants.
Other demands were to end all deportations, and provide citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers toiling in the US.
In Los Angeles, one of the speakers was Mayor Eric Garcetti, who claims to defend the rights of the undocumented despite defending the police department’s collaboration with ICE. As he began his speech, members of the Democratic Socialists of America and the International Socialist Organisation began chanting “Abolish ICE!” and “Eric Garcetti, that’s not nice! Stop collaborating with ICE!” Others in the crowd joined in and booed him. The mayor cut his speech short.
In New York City, there were large crowds chanting: “Trump, escucha – estamos en la lucha!” (Trump, listen – we are in the struggle!) and “No more children in a cage! We are here to show our rage!”
There were many Latino immigrants in the protests, with or without papers. One of these was Cynthia Alonso, a member of Brown Issues, a young activist group that is starting a new branch at California State University, Los Angeles. “Many immigrants are not willing to leave their homes, but are being forced to migrate because of US involvement in Mexico, Central America, and around the world,” she said at the Los Angeles demonstration.
She touched on a key point, that the violence many of these asylum seekers are fleeing is the result of US imperialist policies and interventions, especially in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Her reference to the world is also important to note, as the immigration crisis worldwide is fuelled by US-led imperialist policies, including wars.
At the Washington, DC, protest, Democracy Now! interviewed María Teresa López, from Guatemala, who traced the present violence in her country back to the 1950s. She said: “In 1954, when the [Dwight] Eisenhower government carried out a coup d’état against the democratic government of Jacobo Árbenz, there began the infiltration by the US with the Guatemalan government, this when I was only three years old.
“Then, during the ’60s, when the situation would become difficult, there was no work for people. There were kidnappings, and no one knew why.
“In the ’70s, the people began to organise to defend themselves. The army was occupying large parts of the land where Mayan families lived.
“Then, toward the end of the ’70s, the massacre at Panzós happened, because they found oil in those lands. [Panzós was a small village where the army killed an estimated 106 peasants.] And that was the first massacre. This is how we lived for 36 years of war [of the army against the people].
“During the ’80s, when I arrived in [the US], I had to tell everyone about the massacres, the forced kidnappings, the poisoning of water, the policy of scorched earth – in other words, the killing of the people, their animals and their crops. This is what [US-installed dictator Efraín] Ríos Montt did.
“Many governments came and went, but the situation of Guatemala only worsened.”
The misnamed “War on Drugs” has not only seen the growth of drug cartels in the US, with its attendant gang violence, but also in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, greatly increasing the desperate situations that are propelling asylum seekers from those countries. Their governments have all been subservient to the United States.
When the mildly leftist government of Manuel Zelaya was elected in Honduras, it was overthrown in a military coup organised by the Barack Obama administration in 2009. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the point person.
She went to Honduras shortly before the coup to “consult” with the top brass. Zelaya was captured and taken to a US military base in the country for instructions on what to do with him. They were told not to kill him but to send him into exile in Costa Rica.
Clinton then helped the military to hold “elections” that ushered in a repressive government in spite of mass protests. She subsequently allowed Zelaya back into the country, but only as a private citizen, and heaped praise on the new government, a stance she has maintained to the present day.
Honduras rapidly descended into not only a dictatorship that crushed independent people’s and workers’ movements, but one that formed partnerships with the drug cartels, turning Honduras into a narco-state. Gang violence has escalated to the point where the country is considered one of the murder capitals of the world.
The government held elections last year and allowed an opposition that Zelaya supported to run. When the election commission began to report that the opposition was winning, it suddenly stopped the count, citing “computer problems”. When the count was resumed, the government was declared the winner, triggering more protests in the country.
I have two friends, sisters from El Salvador, one without papers and one who has become a US citizen. They have told me of the situation in the country, where, like in Honduras, young men and boys are threatened with death if they do not join the gangs. The sisters have been greatly upset by the separation of the children from their parents. One, a devout Catholic, held her hand over her heart and said to me, near tears, that she “hurt very much.”
The US administration has now ruled that fleeing from gang violence will no longer be recognised as a valid reason to grant asylum.
The June 30 protests were the high point of the struggle to date, but the resistance will continue until “zero tolerance” is overthrown.