LANSING — Despite a heat warning for the city, an estimated crowd of 1,000 people gathered at the front steps of the Michigan Capitol on the afternoon of Saturday, June 30, to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and enforcement.
“What I see here is a diverse group of Americans demanding justice,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer as she greeted the crowd. “I protest today for the children.”
It was one of hundreds of such protests throughout the nation to protest Trump’s so-called “zero tolerance” policies and family separation programs. Under his stepped up enforcement, people caught crossing the border, or those who present themselves at a crossing for an asylum claim, are arrested. Those with children are separated.
Currently, over 4,000 children have been separated from their families since the initiative began, according to various media outlets. Audio from inside one of the detention facilities released by ProPublica allows listeners to hear young children crying for their parents, while an official jokes about it being a “chorus.”
The protests happened despite Trump’s move to end the controversy by signing an executive order last week ending the family separation policy. However, federal officials have acknowledged they are uncertain how they will reconnect parents and children. Some of the children who arrived at the border have been sent here to Michigan and are being fostered by foster homes authorized by Bethany Christian Services — a Michigan adoption and foster agency that contracts with the federal and state governments but refuses to allow same-sex adoptions.
“It is heartless,” said Whitmer. “It is cruel. And it is un-American.”
Organizers of Saturday’s event Lansing said they were pleased with the turnout despite the scorching weather. Lorenzo Lopez, who was one of the organizers and a co-chair of Michigan Pride, said he expects the energy from the rally and the protests nationwide will serve as a tool in the November elections.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We are going to debrief and then set a direction for the fall.”
Gallery of Lansing Protest:
Photos by Todd Heywood.
Lopez said he had a sense of urgency and called for an emergency gathering of leaders and organizations at the Capital Area District Library. Within seven days the rally had been pulled together and nearly two dozen speakers confirmed. One of those speakers was Lansing City Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, who serves in an at-large position on the legislative body. She’s openly bisexual and led the charge to make Lansing a sanctuary city a year ago.
“I am so upset by this. I am a mom,” an emotional Dunbar told the crowd. “I cannot imagine what these families are going through at the border. The mama bear in me wants to fight and kick and scream and knowing that these moms and dads could not fight and kick and scream their way to stay with their families is so upsetting to me.”
Pastor Melvin T. Jones, of Union Missionary Baptist Church and part of the Black Lives Matter movement, opened the rally with a prayer and then followed with a history lesson.
“It is important that we raise our voices against the inhumane treatement at our southern border,” Jones said. “The separation of our children from their parents is evil, it is unconscionable and it is immoral. What makes it even more egregious is when their separation is based on the misuse of scripture.”
He called a claim by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the detention and separation was a Biblically-supported act “incredulous” and “embarrassing.”
“Nowhere in scripture are we told to obey unjust laws,” he said. “Historically, as African-Americans we have seen this evil before. African-Americans in this country have a legacy that is built on separation and alienation. The stain of which remains within the criminal justice system, environmental poverty and secondary schools along with dysfunctional neighborhoods. Nationally, under this president, there is a definite return to what they call the ‘good old days.’ But let me just raise my voice and say to us, ‘We shall not return to the good old days.’ We shall not return to the time of separation and alienation. We call for the government to bring families together rather than to separate them.”
Jones compared the experiences of African-Americans both in slavery and under Jim Crow laws, before concluding with a call to action for the crowd to “crush this evil under our feet.”
“We have come to expose this evil and the attempt to turn back the clock on civil rights,” Jones said “It’s time to act.”