By Ben Nuckols, Associated Press
Protesters gathered Saturday to support immigrant rights at rallies around the U.S., denouncing President-elect Donald Trump for his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his pledges to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and to crack down on Muslims entering the country.
“We are not going to allow Donald Trump to bury the Statue of Liberty,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, told a standing-room-only crowd at historic African-American church in downtown Washington during one of dozens of rallies around the nation.
In Chicago, more than 1,000 people poured into a teachers’ union hall to support immigrant rights and implore one another to fight for those rights against what they fear will be a hostile Trump administration.
Ron Taylor, pastor of a Chicago-area Disciples for Christ Church and executive director of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, told the audience there, “Regardless of what happens in the coming days we know that good will conquer evil and we want to say to each and every one of you, you are not alone.”
In Los Angeles, several hundred people rallied at a downtown Mexican-American cultural center and plaza. Some carried signs saying “Here to Stay” and chanted “Si se puede,” Spanish for “Yes, we can.”
The protests mark the latest chapter in a movement that has evolved since 2006, when more than a million people took to the streets to protest a Republican-backed immigration bill that would have made it a crime to be in the country illegally.
Saturday’s events in in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, California, and elsewhere took place as thousands participated in a “We Shall Not Be Moved” march and rally in Washington ahead of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
The line to enter Metropolitan AME Church in Washington stretched nearly a city block. People attending included immigrants who lack permission to be in the country and their relatives and supporters. Also present were elected officials, clergy and representatives of labor and women’s groups.
Participants carried signs with messages including “Resist Trump’s Hate” and “Tu, Yo, Todos Somos America,” which translates to “You, me, we all are America.”
“I stand here because I have nothing to apologize for. I am not ashamed of my status because it is a constant reminder to myself that I have something to fight for,” said Max Kim, 19, who was brought to the U.S. from South Korea when he was 6 and lacks legal permission to stay in the country.
The Washington crowd urged Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress not to undo the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, aimed at helping people like Kim who were brought to the country as children.
Michael Takada of the Japanese American Service Committee urged the Chicago audience to “disrupt the deportation machine” that he and others fear will ramp up under the new president. He also urged them to keep a close eye on their local police departments and speak out if they see those departments help “ICE to deport our community members.”
Dr. Bassam Osman, chair and co-founder of The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, elicited one of the loudest cheers from the crowd when he called out the president-elect by name in an opening prayer: “Lord, this land is your land, it is not Trump’s land.”
While there was plenty of cheering, there was also uneasiness and fear of what’s to come after Trump is sworn in.
Rehab Alkadi, a 31-year-old mother of a young son who came to the United States four years ago from war-torn Syria, said she doesn’t believe she can be deported because “there is a war in Syria, but who knows. It’s so scary, what Trump says,” she said. “He said a lot of bad things about the Muslim people.”
In Los Angeles, Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said, “We put the Trump administration on notice that we’re not going to sit idly by while he destroys our community.”
President Barack Obama in 2012 launched an executive effort to protect some young immigrants from deportation, after multiple proposals failed in Congress.
The creation of the DACA program was heralded as a good first step by advocates who hoped it would be a prelude toward overhauling immigration laws. But that didn’t happen, and Republican-led states pushed back against Obama’s plans to expand the program.
Now the focus is on the next administration. As a candidate, Trump promised his supporters stepped-up deportations and a Mexican-funded border wall, but it is unclear which plans the celebrity businessman will act on first, and when. And many immigrants are fearful of the campaign rhetoric but less motivated to protest in the absence of specific actions.
Many participants Saturday said they would keep the pressure on Trump and said they planned to participate in next Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington.
“The threat of deportation is imminent for our communities,” said Cristina Jimenez, executive director of United We Dream and one of the rally’s organizers. “We will keep fighting. We’re not going back into the shadows.”