Over a thousand people marched to a federal courthouse in Brownsville, Texas on Thursday, after a rally organized by the ACLU, its Texas affiliate, and other partner organizations to protest the Trump administration’s policy of criminally prosecuting anyone who crosses the border without authorization. Demonstrators from across Texas converged on the courthouse early Thursday afternoon, yelling “shut it down” and demanding access to hearings being held inside. Brownsville lies directly along the U.S.-Mexico border, and in recent months the courthouse has been the site of hearings for immigrants whose children were forcibly taken away from them by Border Patrol agents.
Under the blazing 90-degree South Texas sun, rally attendees listened as immigrant rights advocates and grassroots volunteers described the human cost of the Trump administration’s policies, urging sustained resistance and civil disobedience to counter them. At one point a group of young children sat on stage, wrapped in space blankets similar to those that immigrant children have been photographed sleeping under in nearby detention facilities, as speakers read accounts of families being separated by immigration authorities.
“Somebody asked me this morning why we were here today, and I told them there were two big reasons,” said Lupita Sanchez of Proyecto Juan Diego, a Brownsville-based community empowerment group. “We wanted to show support to all these families being separated, and second, we want to catch political attention. We want to let them know that we’re here, and that each and every one of you are potential voters. Remember this in November when you go out and vote!”
Victor Ricardo Plua, a slight 9-year-old from Brownsville who organized a campaign to donate stuffed animals to children in immigration detention facilities in 2015, told the crowd, “so many people and children are being hurt by people who only care about themselves.” His appeal that children separated from their families should know they are “not alone” was met with a roar of applause.
Buses organized by the ACLU brought demonstrators to Brownsville from as far as Fort Worth – a 10 -hour journey in both directions – but many attendees were residents of nearby towns. Holding a sign that said, “Children Are Not GOP Pawns,” Erica Martinez of La Blanca said the growing cruelty of border enforcement practices was an issue that felt personal to her. “Using children as a pawn is probably the lowest thing a political party can do,” she said.
On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that any children affected by the Trump administration’s family separation policy must be reunified with their parents within 14 to 30 days, but ACLU advocates say they’re concerned by the absence of a coherent federal plan to comply with the order.
“We have to continue the pressure to make sure the families are in fact reunited,” said Astrid Dominguez, director of the Border Rights Center at the ACLU of Texas. “We can’t back off from that.”
As the speakers wound down, the large crowd gathered in the park, chanting and singing as they marched across the street towards the nearby courthouse. Placards reading “Abolish ICE,” and “Stop Separating Families” waved in the air as passing cars honked their horns in support. At the entrance, uniformed Department of Homeland Security officers explained that there wasn’t room inside to accommodate the entire crowd, and that only five people would be admitted.
In response, some members of the crowd began to chant loudly, refusing to leave the courthouse steps. “Those are our people in there, they deserve to be out,” yelled Norna Garcia-Lopez, of Fort Worth. For over an hour, hundreds of protesters remained in front of the court, sharing water with one another to cope with the mid-day heat before boarding their buses and heading home.
“I feel more empowered than ever to continue doing the work and raising our voices for the community,” said Garcia-Lopez. “I couldn’t bear to hear the crying of the children, it breaks me. I don’t understand why other human beings don’t feel the same way. It makes me feel down, but also mad, and I convert that energy into action.”