The White House’s zero tolerance immigration policy was the catalyst for “Families Belong Together” protests across the country Saturday, including in Durango.
“What’s happening right now is completely inhuman, it’s unnecessary,” said Olivia De Pablo, an organizer of Durango’s event. “It’s a gain for the political parties to see who’s going to be more powerful. I completely condemn the actions that are happening because children are children. We were once children, and this is not OK.”
Guest speakers gave fiery speeches that claimed the policy was cruel, inhumane and racist and condemned politicians who supported it. Many people waved posters that criticized the policy and a few people wore masks that covered their face in support of illegal immigrants who would not want their picture taken. In addition to speakers, the event featured group activities, live demonstrations and tables for people to volunteer. Part of the activities included the crowd singing “This Land Is Your Land” and an opportunity to use an open mic to address the crowd.
The “Families Belong Together” rally in Durango was one of 600 organized events that took place across the country in defiance of the current immigration policy, which has prompted the separation and detentions of migrant families.
Speakers addressing the crowd encouraged people to not only protest the policies but to vote in November.
“We have to raise awareness and encourage people to continue to vote,” De Pablo said. “Voting is the most powerful privilege that the American people have.”
De Pablo legally entered the United States from Mexico in 1993. She was one of the original organizers of Compañeros: Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center and has seen firsthand the struggles many illegal immigrants have experienced.
“I was somewhat more privileged than others,” she said. “But I do understand the struggle that my brothers and sisters are having – risking their life without any judgment for hope of a better life.”
De Pablo said several members of the immigrant community told her they were fearful to attend the rally, regardless of whether they were legal citizens or not.
“It’s not that immigrants don’t care, because this is our fight,” she said. “For community members that are here undocumented, the terror is right there. People are living in the shadows. They always have, but now it’s more prevalent because of the system that has policies like this.”
State House Rep. Barbara McLachlan spoke, encouraging the crowd to vote and to make calls to Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton to encourage them to oppose the policy.
“It’s more important than ever before,” McLachlan told the crowd. “We shouldn’t have to take sides, but we are. Vote for people on your side.”
McLachlan said she was pleased with the turnout and hoped to be a voice for minorities.
“There’s a distinct lack of brown people at this rally,” McLachlan said to The Durango Herald. “They’re afraid to come out. How awful in your own community that you’re afraid to come out to a rally that supports you. I’m here as a privileged white person to say enough is enough. We can’t just keep treating people with disregard.”
An undocumented man who has been living in Durango for over a decade attended the rally. He had second thoughts about coming, but thought it was important for the community to see him protesting the policy that could potentially harm his family.
“I think it’s very important to come here to show people that we are good people, to keep my head up, to show my face,” he said. “To tell them I’m here just like anybody else to work hard and to demonstrate that I’m doing good things.”
The man, who asked not to be named, is concerned the federal policies could separate him from his children, who he has tried to hide the news from. He said on a scale of 1 to 10 on how frightened he is, he is at an 8.
“I’m sad about the current situation with everything that is going on,” he said. “Because of my children, I am afraid that they will get deported. I don’t want them to be concerned. I want them to be focused on school and to get a higher education. I don’t want them to think they will be subject to this.”