Communities across the country demonstrated this past weekend against the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, including in Alaska.
The protests stemmed from an original wave of outrage at the separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In Kodiak, people gathered at the main downtown intersection Saturday to show support for keeping migrating families together and for a more compassionate approach to immigration policy.
Over 30 people have gathered on the grassy triangle at the Y, the center of traffic in downtown Kodiak.
Cars honk on the way past. Demonstrators hold up signs saying things like “Less Fear, more Compassion,” and “They are children.”
Organizer Breanna Peterson says she pulled the gathering together last-minute after seeing interest on Facebook. She says she is horrified by the stories of children being separated from their families.
“People seem really be lacking empathy for this situation and it’s just in my opinion inhumane to take kids away from their parents.”
For the past few months, the federal government has been placing migrant children in facilities established for that purpose.
Last week, the Trump administration changed its policy in reaction to backlash from the public. Now, families seeking asylum, mostly from countries in Central America, are being detained together.
Erin Manilin sits in the center of the green with her son and says she imagines what it must be like for families at the border.
“I have two kids of my own, and I put myself in the shoes of their parents, their moms, and it just made me feel sad. It didn’t feel right. At all. Doesn’t matter where you’re from, you keep your kids with their parents.”
She says no one should be locked up or jailed, and suggested the alternative of finding volunteers to offer families a place in their homes.
That idea also appeals to Michelle Weakly, who says she’d offer her home up if she were in the position.
“It’s a medieval practice to separate children from their families, but I know it’s a big problem. How do you house all these people that are trying to come in? The problem is vast, but as long as we keep our families together.”
The United States has a long history of separating children from parents, from the days of slavery to the colonization of Native Americans. While during World War II, Japanese American families were held in camps together.
Carol Holt sees the administration’s policies as a regression.
“The worst possible scenario is that what Trump is moving toward is detainment camps like this country did with Japanese in WWII and I don’t want us to get anywhere near what we did then. I want us to remember our history, remember who we are and move the process forward.”
Organizer Breanna Peterson says the shift to detaining families together is a positive step forward and believes it’s a direct result of public protest.
“But I guess we’ll see. Once we see the kids reunited, I think that’ll be a bigger statement from the government.”
She says it’s easy to feel helpless hearing and seeing the news. As of June 28, about 2,000 children were estimated to still be held apart from their families.
“It’s just awful and so I think this protest against those actions and what our government is doing, I think it’s just really important the we do show up and have a voice for these people that don’t have a voice and we use our privilege in this way.”
Current regulations prevent the government from holding families for longer than 20 days, but the Trump administration is trying to change that.Organizers of the Families Belong Together movement said they’d estimated that over 750 events would be held across the country.