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Immigration rally brings out hundreds to Memorial Park

Hundreds of people gathered in Memorial Park last Saturday to protest against separation of immigrant families at the southern border.

At the Families Belong Together rally, which coincided with numerous similar rallies across the country, the crowd chanted and held signs with such slogans as “families belong together,” “reunite families now. Some called for the abolition of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Tahil Sharma, the Interfaith Minister in Residence for the Episcopal Diocese in Los Angeles who was one of the organizers for Saturday’s rally and march, said the event was to send a message to the Trump administration that separating families who have been caught crossing the border is inhumane.

“It doesn’t make sense to me as someone who comes from immigrant parents to dehumanize someone else who is different from me,” Mr. Sharma, who is also the Los Angeles chair for Sadhana, which he called a coalition of progressive Hindus.

Speakers at the rally included Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congresswoman Norma Torres, State Senator Anthony Portantino, immigration attorney and Claremont council candidate Jed Leano, Pitzer College Professor Jose Calderon and Claremont Councilmember Sam Pedroza.

One speaker at the rally was a 10-year-old boy, Mr. Sharma said, who walked up to the stage and asked to speak. The boy thanked the crowd and said he did not want families to be separated. 

“It was beyond powerful,” Mr. Sharma said.

Mr. Pedroza said he had one message to those in attendance: vote.

“I think the main message is we need to vote, and if we don’t like these policies and if we don’t like these types of efforts being made by our president and by the administration, then we need to vote,” Mr. Pedroza said.

A voter registration booth was also at Memorial Park during the rally.

Mr. Sharma noted the number of people who planned to go to the rally ballooned in just about a week, from about 50 to nearly 700-1000, by his estimation.

Children who have been separated from their parents have been sent to centers all over the country, even at the David and Margaret home in La Verne, Mr. Sharma said. He stressed that the children staying at David and Margaret are being treated well and getting the legal representation they need.

“Even though we understand the separation as not good at all, we do understand those kids are being treated with dignity and respect and that’s what we care about the most,” Mr. Sharma said.

Susan Ruiz was at the rally with her husband and her daughter. Saturday’s protest was her first, and the issue of separating children from their parents spurred her to take action.

“I guess you could say I sort of had enough,” Ms. Ruiz said. “I felt like I have to do something more than sit there and share things on Facebook and social media. I wanted to get involved.”

Her sign depicted the Statue of Liberty with a skull face and holding a crying child. The words “Statue of captivity” are seen. Water jugs, which are seen as tokens of good will to those crossing the desert border, adorn the bottom of the sign. It was based on an art installation by Cassandra Elaine Dixon in Nogales, Arizona.

“These children who are kept and being taken away from their parents, it can be very traumatic,” Ms. Ruiz said. “It’s not the children’s fault.”

After the speakers were finished, much of the crowd moved from the band shell at Memorial Park to Foothill and Indian Hill, where protestors holding signs took over all four corners of the intersection, Mr. Sharma said.

Cars passing through honked and flashed peace signs in support of the marchers.

“The energy and the positivity and the willingness of people to represent folks who are marginalized, even if they have no direct association, is one of the most powerful things you can feel,” Mr. Sharma said.

Mr. Pedroza also noted the “fantastic” energy of the crowd.

“There is a lot of despair, but these types of rallies and marches really remind us that we are united,” he said. “It amplifies our voices and ideals.”

Mr. Sharma wanted the rally to send a message to the Trump administration that while border security is important, it should not be at the expense of ripping families apart, especially those who want to share in the same dreams and futures as Americans.

He noted that seeing Saturday’s crowd filled him with, “humility, pride, and a certain hope that when things seem to be going rough and tough in the world there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.”

Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

[Ed. note: This article was changed to note that Mr. Sharma is an interfaith minister in residence, not Redlands. The COURIER regrets the error.]