More than 1,000 people in Cincinnati joined "Families Belong Together" rallies across the country today protesting "zero tolerance" immigration enforcement efforts undertaken by the Trump administration.
The local rally, held at Washington Park, drew representatives from groups like the Cincinnati Socialist Alternative, Indivisible NKY, members of the Democratic Party, the Northern Kentucky chapter of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and other groups. A diverse group of faith leaders, the Greater Cincinnati League of United Latin American Citizens, immigration activists at the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center and the Interfaith Worker's Center, spoke at the event.
"LULAC is opposed to the immoral acts this administration has done," Greater Cincinnati LULAC President Lourdes Ribera said. "They are ripping apart thousands of families. We're here today to join forces with all of you so we can keep families together."
The Trump administration's new policies, ushered in by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, pursue prosecution for all incoming undocumented immigrants, including those seeking asylum. As adults are sent through the legal system, the young people they sometimes bring with them were sent to different detention centers. Many, including a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas holding almost 1,500 young people, quickly reached capacity. That caused the federal government to announce that it would begin housing young migrants in tent cities on military bases.
The Trump administration has since announced it would cease separating the families after international outcry around footage of children being held in chain-link cages at some detention centers.
Local families have already felt the implications of the new policies. Last month, CityBeat wrote about a local woman whose two sons were separated at the border as they attempted to reach her after fleeing gang violence in Honduras. Border agents did not believe the elder of the two, who is 16, was a minor, and held him in an adult immigration detention center. His family did not know his whereabouts until a local legal aid center stepped in to help.
Sessions' policy announcement is the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration to curtail undocumented immigration into the United States. Those efforts, including raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, have had an impact locally.
Among the speakers at today's rally were representatives from Youth Educating Society, a group of young immigrants, many of them here under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. Trump has made indications he may eliminate that program, which protects immigrants brought here as minors from immigration enforcement. But YES is also advocating for more wide-ranging comprehensive immigration reform, including disbanding the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which has carried out massive immigration raids of late, including some in Ohio.
"I'm a human being, and no human being is illegal," YES member Heyra Avila told the crowd. "Even though I've had DACA since 2012, I'll keep fighting because of my parents, I'll keep fighting for my community, for those children, for everyone who is still effected and has been for years. It's not just about the man who is president right now. But it took him being president for a lot of people to wake up and realize that we have been going through this for a long time."
Activists say continued pushing is necessary as the Trump administration continues to tighten legal restrictions around immigration, including those on people crossing the border to seek protection from violence in their homelands.
Migrants coming from countries like Guatemala are sometimes coming to the U.S. border seeking asylum as they flee gang violence, domestic abuse or severe economic deprivation. But pathways to asylum — already a complicated, years-long process — are narrowing. Sessions also recently announced that the U.S. would not grant asylum claims based on domestic abuse.