Washington (AFP) – Demonstrations were expected across the United States Saturday against President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policy, as calls grow by activists for abolition of the country’s frontline immigration enforcement agency.
“We’re rallying in Washington DC, and around the country,” organizers of the “Families Belong Together” protest said on their website.
The Washington protest was to begin in Lafayette Square — directly across from the White House — before a march toward the Capitol.
Starting in early May, in an attempt to staunch the flow of tens of thousands of migrants to the southern US border every month, Trump ordered the arrest of adults crossing the boundary illegally, including those seeking asylum.
Many trying to cross the US-Mexico border are destitute people fleeing gang violence and other turmoil in Central America.
As a result of Trump’s crackdown, distraught children were separated from their families and, according to widely broadcast pictures, held in chain-link enclosures, a practice that sparked domestic and global outrage.
Last week, Trump signed an order ending the separation of families but immigration lawyers say the process of doing so will be long and chaotic.
About 2,000 children remained split from their parents, according to official figures released last weekend.
More than 500 women, including a member of Congress, were arrested Thursday in the US Capitol complex protesting Trump’s immigration policy.
There have been protests elsewhere in the country but Saturday’s demonstrations are expected to be far larger, with 50,000 or more expected in Washington.
Trump has made fighting immigration — both illegal and legal — a major plank of his “America First” policy agenda.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) makes arrests and otherwise enforces the administration’s immigration crackdown, but an emerging coalition of politicians, activists and pro-immigrant protesters has begun calling for the dismantling of ICE.
Critics say the agency has treated some would-be immigrants cruelly and unfairly.
“Occupy ICE” camps have been set up in several US states.
One of the first voices to call for the abolition of ICE was New York Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon.
She has since been joined by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who told radio station WYNC, “You need some kind of agency to deal with immigration, but ICE is not that”; and by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, also of New York, who in a tweet called ICE “a cruel deportation force.”
On Saturday, Trump tweeted support for ICE, saying “radical left Dems want you out. Next it will be all police. Zero chance, it will never happen!”
The political backlash against ICE is so intense that members of the agency’s criminal investigative division have asked Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to split them off as a separate agency, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
The Post said the request came from the majority of special agents in charge of the Homeland Security Investigative Division, which handles transnational investigations related to counterterrorism, narcotics and human trafficking.