About 100 people marched through uptown Athens and rallied on Ohio University’s College Green Friday evening, demanding changes to U.S. immigration policy.
Participants joined hundreds of thousands of others across the country Friday and Saturday, and many others in recent weeks, in protesting the Trump Administration's immigration policies, particularly its "zero tolerance" approach that has led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border.
Chanting slogans such as “From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have got to go” and holding signs that read, “Child abuse is not a family value” and “Bigotry equals bad public policy,” the protesters represented a wide variety of local progressives and activists. Some also called for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).
Before the rally, protest organizer and local resident Susan Westenbarger said the event’s turnout was the result of people being fed up with seeing images of migrant children taken from their parents and warehoused in “kindergarten concentration camps.”
“When they are putting children in cages, I think any sane, rational human with a beating heart is going to say no, that’s too far,” she said. People need to exercise “empathy” when they consider why people are coming to the United States’ southern border, she added, noting that the U.S. has a responsibility to grant sanctuary to people escaping “brutal” gang violence and poverty.
Carla Triana, an OU student, teared up as she spoke to the gathered crowd of protesters, recalling reading about a 5-year-old boy from Honduras being separated from his father, and a text message Triana sent to her mother recently:
“That was the age that I was when I crossed the border with my 2-year-old sister and my mom,” she said. “I cannot imagine the pain that they’re going through. I could not have imagined being separated from you (her mother)…,” she read from the text, “living through that, and going through that trauma from being hidden in the vehicle when I was crossing the border, or the 10 years of being undocumented, and the fear of being deported and separated from my family.”
She said that now, as U.S. citizens, she and her mother take pride in casting their votes in recent elections, and to give a voice to those undocumented immigrants who cannot speak out.
The protest was the result of collaboration from a lot of different local groups, including: Showing Up For Racial Justice – Southeast Ohio chapter, the Southeast Ohio LGBT Coalition, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, Indivisible Appalachia, and the Athens chapter of the International Socialist Organization (ISO).
Two banners popped up on the Athens County Courthouse and the uptown Athens parking garage, calling for the abolishment of ICE and to “make racists afraid again.”
Ryan Powers, a member of the Athens ISO, said that the effort to build the “machine” that is ICE has been “bipartisan,” and called for ICE’s abolition.
“The U.S. has a long history of racist deportations but let’s just start with George W. Bush who founded ICE in the first place and President Obama who took over that machine and expanded it and earned the nickname from immigrant rights activist groups as the ‘deporter in chief’ for deporting more immigrants in U.S. history than every other president up to that point,” Powers said. “Now Donald Trump has taken that machine and he’s turned the knob to 11. Meanwhile, Democratic politicians are willing to compromise with the further and further right-wing base of the Republican Party.”
Powers added that protests from people like the group assembled in Athens Friday night persuaded Trump to issue an executive order ending the separation of families policy, and argued that those same people can no longer rely on the Democrats to advocate for their interests.
Trump tweeted on Saturday and Sunday about U.S. immigration policies, arguing that U.S. immigration laws are the “dumbest in the world,” and that without ICE and with “open borders,” crime would be “rampant and uncontrollable.” However, an analysis of census data from 1980 to 2010 from the American Immigration Council (https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/criminalization-immigration-united-states) show that among men ages 18 to 49, immigrants were one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States. About 7 percent of the nation’s population are non-citizens, while figures from the Justice Department show that about 5 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons are non-citizens, according to a Jan. 2017 New York Times article.
“To the great and brave men and women of ICE, do not worry or lose your spirit,” Trump tweeted. “You are doing a fantastic job of keeping us safe by eradicating the worst criminal elements. So brave! The radical left Dems want you out. Next it will be all police. Zero chance. It will never happen!”