‘The beginning stage of a modern-day Holocaust’: Thousands rally in Salt Lake City, protesting Trump’s immigration policies that have separated families

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Madeline Nelson, left, is joined by her friend Sophie Hudiburg as their families join the crowd gathered at the Utah Capitol on Saturday, June 30, 2018, to protest the Trump administration's immigration policies that have led to the separation of migrant families. More than 750 locations around the country planned to participate in the 'Families Belong Together' event, including at the nations capitol.

With prayers, banners, signs, songs, chants and angry speeches, protesters rallied by the hundreds Saturday at the Utah Capitol against the treatment of immigrants at the hands of the Trump administration.

“I never thought I was going to be protesting for children’s rights inside this country,” said Deyvid Morales, an activist and “Dreamer” who moved to the United States when he was 9. “Am I in a different country? Did I get deported to a different country already?”

About 2,500 people, by Utah Highway Patrol’s estimate, rallied at the Capitol — many of them marching up State Street from City Creek Park. It was one of some 700 coordinated events nationwide under the banner “Families Belong Together.” Other Utah events were organized in Logan, Provo, St. George, Kanab and Moab, according to the progressive group MoveOn.org.

The rallies were aimed at calling out President Donald Trump and his policies that have seen “zero tolerance” of immigrants crossing the southern border — a policy that, before Trump reversed himself, called for separating children from their families and detaining them.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was one of the first members of Congress to attempt to investigate those detention centers. He recounted to the Salt Lake City rally attendees how federal workers at a center in Brownsville, Texas, called the cops when he tried to gain access.

“They want to keep secret what they’re doing to children separated from their families,” Merkley said.

Merkley also talked about how federal officials have blocked access to the bridge crossing the Rio Grande, leading to the one legal port of entry for people to apply for asylum in the United States.

“Isn’t it pretty diabolical for [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions to say there’s no reason to cross the border except at ports of entry, and then to block people at ports of entry?” Merkley said.

The senator also called for a change to Immigration and Custom Enforcement, the agency tasked with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.

“Do you know that phrase Republicans used, ‘Repeal and replace’? Let’s repeal and replace ICE,” Merkley said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

“Abollish ICE” was one of many chants the protesters joined in on, in a rally whose speakers ranged from the spiritual to the militant.

Christopher “Kakuyo” Leibow, a lay minister with the Salt Lake Buddist Fellowship, offered a prayer that called for people to stand up against oppression, but also sought “a Colorado River of love that will spill over and fill the hearts of all.”

On the other hand, Adrian Romero, who identifies as a queer immigrant originally from Mexico, called the Trump administration’s actions “the beginning stage of a modern-day Holocaust. … This is not patriotism, this is white nationalism.”

People gathering at City Creek Park, to march up the hill to the Capitol, wanted to show solidarity with the thousands of children separated from their families at the border.

Ida Larsen, from St. George, drove up with her 15-year-old daughter, Ava Lohrey, and some of Ava’s friends. “We wanted to come to the Capitol,” Larsen said. “We’re feeling that passionate about the protest.”

Larsen, whose mother was an immigrant from Japan, said she knows people in her community affected by deportation.

“We’ve had two families who have already lost their moms,” she said.

Hope Fiveash, a 12-year-old from Ogden, wore a silvery Mylar blanket, the kind given to children in detention centers, “to represent the people who were taken away from their families,” she said. “I’m a kid, and I don’t want to be taken away from my parents. We all have human rights.”

Activist groups from the ACLU to the Workers World Party had tables at the rally, so people could sign petitions, donate to the cause or register to vote.

“We must be more than keyboard warriors on Facebook,” Morales told the crowd. “We must go out and we must vote. We must run for office, if you can.”

As marchers picked up signs at City Creek Park, Summer Smith, one of the organizers, asked them to recycle the signs after the march. “Unfortunately,” Smith said, “I think we’ll have more to protest later.”

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