About 60 cities and towns across the country were expected to participate, said Anna Tarkov, communications director for Families Belong Together, a group opposed to the family separations.
Gabriela Domenzain, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, was among several dozen people who rallied Thursday in nearby Warwick.
Domenzain told NBC affiliate WJAR of Providence that she took part because “putting kids or parents in cages is not something we stand for.”
“This is inhumane,” she said. “International organizations need to get involved.”
Several dozen people marched in Rutherford, New Jersey, where the Rev. Ron Verblaauw, pastor of Rutherford Congregational Church, told NBC New York: “Separating children from families is the first sign we are not the land of the free and the home of the brave anymore. We are the scared.”
Micaela Eller, lead organizer of Thursday’s rally in Austin, Texas, called the so-called zero tolerance policy cruel, telling NBC affiliate KXAN that the stories from parents are heartbreaking.
“It’s hard to look at the images, hear the stories, to listen to the mothers’ stories of their children being taken away and just being told, ‘We’re taking them to give them a bath,’ and then never seeing them again,” Eller said.
Melissa Byrne, a longtime activist who was a member of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign staff, posted photos and video to Twitter showing protesters at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Philadelphia. Many held signs, some saying “Separating Families Is Cruel Torture” and “Keep Families Together.”
“Power to the people. No one is illegal!” protesters chanted in the video. “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”
The rallies come as NBC News was granted access to a facility in Brownsville, Texas, that houses children separated from their parents, as well as minors who came to the United States alone.
Last month,Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy, which seeks to prosecute people who cross the border illegally, a misdemeanor. When parents are charged, they end up in federal custody, and their children are separated from them and rendered unaccompanied. Sessions has looked to deter migrants at the border and has said the administration wants to crack down on potential human trafficking and smuggling.
In a speech Thursday to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sessions promised: “If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then the Department of Homeland Security will arrest you and the Department of Justice will prosecute you. That is what the law calls for — and that is what we are going to do.
“Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution,” he said.
Tarkov, of Families Belong Together, said in an interview that supporters had flooded the group’s in-boxes asking what they can do to challenge the policy.
“The outrage and the desperation is through the roof,” she said.