Last Saturday, nearly 250 residents from Malibu and nearby gathered on the four corners of the Pacific Coast Highway and Webb Way intersection to wave signs, ring cow bells and wave to passing motorists in protest of the separation of families seeking asylum at the U.S. border and being put in detention centers. Many protesters wore white to symbolize unity. One group wore silver space blankets over their shoulders—like those given to the children in the detention centers. Many demonstrators brought their own children.
A sampling of protest signs said “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” Another said, “Inhumane! Our country is better than this.” One referred to Trump as the “Bully culprit,” while another said, “Make America human again.” Passing motorists waved and honked their horns in solidarity on the busy summer Saturday afternoon.
The protest—one of about 750 held across the country Saturday—was organized on the heels of a frustrating couple of weeks for a majority of people not only in Malibu, but also across the U.S., when it came to the actions of the federal government.
According to a poll by Quinnipiac University published last month, 66 percent of American voters oppose the policy of separating families at the border, compared to 27 percent who support the policy.
The images were difficult to avoid. Many watched in horror as TV news showed crying children—as young as eight months old—being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, then locked up in chain link cages inside warehouses.
Although a federal judge ruled that immigration officials must stop separating families, and ordered all separated families be reunited within 30 days, recordkeeping was so lax that it is predicted some of the 2,000 children taken away may never see their parents again after being transported to foster homes and facilities all over the U.S.
“It’s been really difficult to start the reunification process because we just don’t have a lot of direction from leadership,” one anonymous source from the refugee office told Politico Monday.
The administration then announced it won’t reunite children with their families unless their parents drop their asylum cases and agree to be deported, or their cases are heard—which could take months or years.
“ICE will make every effort to reunite the child with the parent once the parent’s immigration case has been adjudicated,” a spokesman told National Public Radio in June. The source added that “parents being deported may request that their children leave with them or may decide to leave the children in the U.S. to pursue their own immigration claim,” according to the NPR story.
In the meantime, activists across the country, including California Senator Kamala Harris, have called for the dismantling or complete revision of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), whose harsh methods and actions have come under intense criticism. It was out of this environment that the idea for nationwide protests was born.
The group wearing the space blankets was from Topanga. One member, Coco Blignant, said she was participating in the demonstration because “I’m a French teacher and I’m an immigrant. I just became a citizen of this country in 2017, and I used to be proud of that, but now I’m embarrassed. But I stand with other Americans to fight this.”
Malibu resident Terry Davis said the videos of children being taken from their parents brought her to tears.
“It shouldn’t be political, but it is,” she explained. “The Republicans touted themselves as holding family values high, but right now they’re supporting separation of babies and children that will cause them to have so much stress, trauma and mistrust of others their entire lives. It’s not about open borders; it’s about helping people fleeing for their lives. It’s about humanity and how the world sees us as bullies. It’s not who I am or who this country is.”
A protester from Woodland Hills, Michael McCoy, said, “I’m here because I feel families and children belong together.
“If I were fleeing from atrocities, and thought I could go to America for a safer existence, I wouldn’t expect my child to be ripped from me,” McCoy continued. “I thought internment camps were abolished.”
Local political activist Lance Simmens said, “It couldn’t be more important to be anywhere else [but this protest] at this point in time. We’re seeing our democracy slip away and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen and take a stand … You need diversity and immigration for democracies to grow. We’re not distinguishing ourselves on the world stage right now. We need to accommodate people seeking freedom when it doesn’t exist in their country—not have an open border, but a welcoming border for asylum and legal immigration.”
Actor and resident Martin Sheen spoke briefly to the crowd, saying, “I’m the son of immigrants, so I have a voice in this issue, and you have all taken a personal interest in what’s being done in our country’s name.”
Rev. Paul Elder of St. Aidan’s Church in Malibu, an immigrant himself, told the gathering, “Making children suffer for the desperation of their parents is outrageous. It does not represent the America we love.”