Nearly 100 people protested President Donald Trump’s immigration policies at a progressive Lynchburg church Saturday, echoing demonstrations across the country calling for thousands of immigrant children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border to be reunited.
The rally-goers lined Rivermont Avenue in front of First Christian Church, holding signs denouncing Trump and his “zero tolerance” policy mandating the criminal prosecution of anyone who comes into the country illegally.
“The plight of the children in this zero tolerance policy has awakened people to the crisis we have,” said rally organizer and First Christian Church member Joyce O’Quinn. “We are called to condemn anything that dehumanizes and discriminates against people.”
Protesters held signs reading “Zero Tolerance Makes No Sense,” “No Human is Illegal” and “Be Nice ICE,” referencing U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement. Motorists waved to the demonstrators and honked their horns in solidarity throughout the rally.
The Rev. Cyd Cowgill said the church held the rally because it has a moral duty to show support for those fleeing their homes and seeking safety in the U.S. She called on city residents to push back against the administration in the voting booth on Election Day.
“The message here today is that this church, this representation of the people of God, stands solidly behind those seeking justice and we believe that the church has a responsibility to speak to justice issues,” Cowgill said.
Organizers timed the rally to begin as thousands took to the streets of Washington D.C. for the “Families Belong Together” march. About 750 similar rallies were held throughout the nation on Saturday, according to The Washington Post.
Vicente Gonzalez, who was undocumented until he was 15 years old, said the consequences of the Trump administration’s immigration approach extends farther than just the U.S.-Mexican border. Gonzalez said citizens shouldn’t just demand action from government during the election season but throughout the year.
“I think people think this is a distant problem; this is definitely in Lynchburg,” he said. “We still don’t have a solution for DACA or the 11 million people that are undocumented. I think putting all the energy into the elections is a misleading approach.”
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is an immigration policy created during President Barack Obama’s administration allowing undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to apply for work permits. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the policy last year, but the order was challenged in the courts and remains in legal limbo.
Nancy Kirshner, a teacher who heard about the rally through social media, said the images of children locked up in detention centers away from their parents spurred her to action.
“I’ve seen how various things can traumatize kids, and I think unexplained separation from your parents can be one of the most traumatizing things,” she said. “I think it’s important to think of this particular thing as not a Republican or Democratic issue, it’s really a moral issue.”
Self-described “Eisenhower Republican” Peter Kjeseth called immigration a complex and nuanced issue but said the consequences children face due to the zero tolerance policy is beyond the pale.
“One of my deep theological insights is that the only walk worth walking is a tightrope walk, and the issue of immigrant is a tightrope walk because there’s good thinking and there’s bad thinking on every side of the issue, but one thing that cannot be tolerated is what we’re doing to the kids,” Kjeseth said. “That’s why I’m here.”
At point a passing motorist sparred with protesters. The driver could be heard shouting “the law is the law” from his window. One demonstrator asked the man to “stop blocking traffic.”
“Well, that lends some excitement, doesn’t it,” Cowgill said.