By Ellen Nickmeyer
WASHINGTON (AP) — They wore white. They shook their fists in the air. They carried signs reading: “No more children in cages,” and “What’s next? Concentration Camps?”
In major cities and tiny towns, hundreds of thousands of marchers gathered Saturday across America, moved by accounts of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, in the latest act of mass resistance against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Protesters flooded more than 700 marches, from immigrant-friendly cities like New York and Los Angeles to conservative Appalachia and Wyoming. They gathered on the front lawn of a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, near a detention center where migrant children were being held in cages, and on a street corner near Trump’s golf resort at Bedminster, New Jersey, where the president is spending the weekend.
“Do you know where our children are?” one protester’s sign there asked. Another offered: “Even the Trump family belongs together.”
Trump has backed away from the family separation policy amid bipartisan and international uproar, and those marching Saturday demanded the government quickly reunite the families that were already divided.
In the president’s hometown of New York City, an estimated 30,000 marchers poured across the Brooklyn Bridge in sweltering 90-degree heat, some carrying their children on their shoulders, chanting, “Shame!” Drivers honked their horns in support.
“It’s important for this administration to know that these policies that rip apart families —that treat people as less than human, like they’re vermin — are not the way of God, they are not the law of love,” said the Rev. Julie Hoplamazian, an Episcopal priest marching in Brooklyn.
The families split up as they tried to enter the U.S. illegally were largely fleeing extreme violence, persecution or economic collapse in their home countries, often in Central America.
In Washington, D.C., another massive crowd gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House in what was expected to be the largest protest of the day, stretching for hours under a searing sun. Firefighters at one point misted the crowd to help people cool off.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical “Hamilton,” sang a lullaby dedicated to parents unable to sing to their children. Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys read a letter written by a woman whose child had been taken away from her at the border.
“It’s upsetting. Families being separated, children in cages,” said Emilia Ramos, a cleaner in the district, fighting tears at the rally. “Seeing everyone together for this cause, it’s emotional.”
Around her, thousands waved signs: “I care,” some read, referencing a jacket that first lady Melania Trump wore when traveling to visit child migrants. Her jacket said, “I really don’t care, do U?” and it became a rallying cry for protesters Saturday.
“I care!! Do you?” read Joan Culwell’s T-shirt as she joined a boisterous rally in Denver.
“We care!” marchers shouted outside Dallas City Hall. Organizer Michelle Wentz says opposition to the Trump administration’s “barbaric and inhumane” policy has seemed to cross political party lines. The “zero tolerance policy” of prosecuting people caught entering the country illegally led officials to separate more than 2,000 children from their parents before being abandoned.
Trump took to Twitter to show his support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement amid calls from some Democrats for major changes to the agency. Tweeting from New Jersey on Saturday, Trump urged ICE agents to “not worry or lose your spirit.” He wrote that “the radical left Dems want you out. Next it will be all police.”
Though many at the rallies were seasoned anti-Trump demonstrators, others were new to activism, including parents who said they felt compelled to act after heart-wrenching accounts of families torn apart.
Nationwide, groups came together in city parks and downtown squares, while others converged on the international bridge between El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico.
At the border, they protested what speakers described as unconstitutional overreach by the Trump administration and heavy-handed tactics by immigration agents. They carried signs with slogans like “We are all immigrants” as they chanted “Love, not hate, makes America great.”
Marchers took to the streets in Raleigh, North Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; Pittsburgh; Houston; cities in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, as well as Antler, North Dakota, population 27.
Steve Adelmund, a father of two, was inspired to organize a protest in rural Marshalltown, Iowa, after turning on the news on Father’s Day and seeing children being separated from their families and held in cages.
“It hit me in the heart. I cried,” said Adelmund, whose event drew about 125 people.
“If we can’t come together under the idea of ‘Kids shouldn’t be taken from their parents,’ where are we?” he asked. “We have to speak out now while we can, before we can’t.”
In Columbus, Ohio, at least one person was arrested when protesters blocked a downtown street, the Columbus Dispatch reported. But most of the rallies remained peaceful.
In downtown Los Angeles, John Legend serenaded the crowd while Democratic politicians who have clashed with Trump had strong words for the president, including U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters who called for impeachment.
Margarita Perez held up a Mexican flag as speakers addressed the crowd in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Those children that they are incarcerating and separating, they are our future generations. We need to provide for these children,” she said. “They will be our future leaders.”
Two thousand miles away in Boston, a Brazilian mother separated from her 10-year-old son at the border 37 days ago approached the microphone.
“We came to the United States seeking help, and we never imagined that this could happen. So I beg everyone, please release these children, give my son back to me,” she said through an interpreter and wept.
He son has pleaded with her on the phone to bring him home.
“I beg you all,” she said. “Please fight and continue fighting, because we will win.”
In Washington, protesters ended their march at the white-columned Department of Justice. They taped their protest signs, written in English and Spanish, to its grand wooden doors.
“Fight for families,” the sign declared.
Associated Press reporters Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Emily Schmall in McAllen, Texas, Martha Irvine in Chicago, Sarah Betancourt in Boston, Amy Taxin in Los Angeles, Rick Callahan in Indianapolis, Ryan Tarinelli in Dallas, Bob Lentz and Ron Todt in Philadelphia, Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, and Julie Walker, Michael Sisak and Gillian Flaccus in New York City contributed to this report.