In solidarity with scheduled demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and more than 600 cities across the U.S., hundreds of Baltimoreans joined a “Keep Families Together” immigration rally in Patterson Park Saturday afternoon and called for the Trump Administration to reunite families that have been separated at the border.
“I reacted in absolute intrinsic horror when I saw what was happening in my country,” said Tiana Gianci, referring to recent media reports that showed children being pulled from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. “This issue is a priority for me, it’s at the top of my list,” added Gianci, who attended the rally with her husband and two young boys. “I am descended from East European Jewish and Sicilian immigrants. Humanity has been through this before. Enough is enough.”
Hosted by Baltimore Women United in coalition with CASA, Indivisible Baltimore, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the ACLU, Teachers Defending Immigrant Families, Peoples Power Assembly, Jews United for Justice, and other local groups, more than 1,800 people registered to attend the demonstration, according to Lisa Oelfke, a Baltimore Women United organizer. Baltimore Women United was formed out of the January 21, 2017 Women’s March that followed the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
“There are a lot of women everywhere, including Baltimore, that were outraged by the family separations at the border—that was a tipping point,” said Oelfke, explaining the impetus for the rallies this weekend. “More broadly, it’s about the criminalization of immigration and Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, which includes changing the rules for seeking asylum and the Muslim travel ban.
Oelfke added that many immigrant supporters from Baltimore had headed to Washington to participate in a rally at Lafayette Square, which was expected to draw 50,000 protestors.
Although Trump signed an executive order reversing the administration’s family separation policy a week ago, CNN reported that only six children—of more than 2,000 in limbo—had been reunited with their parents six days after the executive order was signed.
Luis Lavin, an 35-year-old immigrant from Guatemala “still worried” about his status after living and working in Baltimore for 12 years, said he believes the U.S. would be better served by using its resources to help improve economic conditions in Central America than jailing immigrants seeking to escape poverty. “I just came out of economic survival, the same as many other immigrants, to support my mother and sister who are alone in Guatemala.”
Elected officials on hand included U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Rep. Jon Sarbanes, and City Councilman Zeke Cohen, whose district includes Patterson Park and Southeast Baltimore, a traditional home of earlier waves of German, Irish, Polish, Russian, Jewish, Ukrainian, Slovak, Italian and Greek immigrants to the city—and home today to much of Baltimore's Latino community. (Baltimore's February cover feature examined the city's historic immigration story and the challenges facing the newest groups arriving in Baltimore.)
Cardin, in particular, and not normally given to raising his voice, blasted Trump Administration immigration policies. “Diversity is our strength,” Cardin told the big crowd, many of who tried to find protection from the 90-plus temperatures under the park’s shade trees. “Donald Trump created this crisis and he can stop it tomorrow. This is an absolutely appalling policy.”
Ruppersberger and Sarbanes appealed to those in attendance to take their grievance, or grievances, to the polls in November.
“Put your voice in the ballot box,” Sarbanes said. “Put your power in the ballot box.”
After the rally, demonstrators took to the outskirts of the park, lining Eastern Avenue with the signs and waving to passing motorists.
“It’s heartfelt,” said Liz Alex, senior director of community organizing with CASA, of the turnout. “What’s especially beautiful is there are a lot of folks here who brought their kids and a lot of people who I haven’t seen before. They’re telling me this is the first rally they’ve been to and it really matters to them.”