The smallest speaker at Toledo’s “Families Belong Together” rally, Karem Ramiez, 8, stood before hundreds of people to tell them her father is a good man.
Three weeks ago, he was detained in a workplace immigration raid and she hasn’t seen him since.
“Please help me,” Karem said. “I want my Papi back. I want everybody happy again.”
As protesters in cities across the country rallied against the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policies and the past practice of separating families at the border, more than 500 protesters gathered Saturday at Toledo’s Love Wall to highlight a local reality: For families divided in the heartland, there’s still no end to their separation in sight.
Faith organizations, civil rights groups, and immigrant alliances joined the fight for family reunification after recent large-scale immigration raids at Corso’s garden centers in Sandusky and Castalia and at the Fresh Mark meatpacking plant in Salem. Speakers at Saturday’s rally described the effect of the raids on children left without one or both parents.
“Children are traumatized,” said Janet Hales, executive director of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, the Toledo firm aiding workers detained during the raids. Most of them wait in detention for bond hearings to begin on Thursday in Detroit immigration court. But Ms. Hales said few will be able to pay the amounts posted.
“We have heard the despair of women and men separated from their children and jailed for over three weeks without any of the rights that we hold dear,” she said.
The parking lot erupted in boos.
“Not so great, America!” one protester called out.
But it wasn’t until Karem’s cousin Jairo Alonso, 14, stepped up to the microphone that the rally’s theme of children crystallized. Children, Ms. Hales stressed in her speech, have become victims of family separation here in Ohio, more than 1,000 miles north of the border.
They have also become champions of reunification.
“Yes, we are young, but we will be heard,” said Jairo, whose sister, Natalia, founded “Los Niños De Corsos,” a group of teens collecting and distributing food and supplies to families impacted by the raids.
The crowd filled Jairo’s pauses with cheers and whistles as he delivered a message of unity.
“We might be young, but we know what is right and what is wrong,” he continued. “We cannot stand by and watch our fellow Ohioans — Buckeyes — suffer alone. ‘Cause that’s what we all are — Buckeyes. ‘Cause we live here. We are neighbors.”
He concluded: “Los niños — the children — should always be first.”
Pressed together in the parking lot, protesters ranging in age from eight to 80 alternated between cheers and boos to show their support for immigrant families and their opposition to family separation and deportation. One sign read, “Break up ICE,” a call for the disbandment of the organization responsible for raids and detainment. Another, held by Mimi Moore, 13, of Toledo, read, “If you build a wall, my generation will knock it down.”
University of Toledo student Katie Raczkowski, 21, said of protesting, “You just have to.”
“We’re supposed to keep people safe,” she said.
Nodding, her mother, Lisa, added, “They’re looking for refuge. A safe haven. That’s what we’ve always promised.”
Meyling Ruiz, 31 — a U.S. citizen and Toledo resident who emigrated from Nicaragua — said the separation of families “hit home” because it could have happened to her own. Echoing others, she said, “It breaks my heart.”
Retired priest Tony Gallagher, an outspoken opponent of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, said they contradict the values espoused by Christians, including those who support President Trump.
“This situation is so morally wrong,” he said. “People of faith who talk about the importance of families, but yet support the current President, I find very difficult to accept.”
A series of chants followed the speeches. In unison, the crowd yelled, “There are no excuses for human rights abuses,” and declared immigrants welcome in Toledo. The uproar ended on the steady beat of protesters clapping and chanting together, “Vote, vote, vote.”
The rally’s march component was canceled because of the heat, and the crowd disbanded just before noon.
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