The heat on Saturday didn’t stop Elizabeth Milner from coming to Lafayette Park in view of the White House to protest President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policies. As she held a sign showing a cup of shaved ice that read “Crush I.C.E,” a play on the acronym of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Milner’s cheeks were red from the heat. But her discomfort was beside the point, she said.
“Part of why I’m here in the ridiculous hot sun is that Donald Trump counts numbers,” she said. “I want to be a body in the crowd so that he can see why this protest has legs.”
Milner was joined by about 30,000 others at the #KeepFamiliesTogether rally, one of several that took place across the United States. For three hours, they chanted “keep families together” and carried signs proclaiming their anger at Trump’s hardline policies, which until recently separated children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Many contained messages directed straight at Trump. One boy stood in a tree holding a sign that read, “Super Callous, Fascist Racist Extra Bragga Docious,” a parody of the “Mary Poppins” song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Another sign read, “What would Mr. Rogers Do? Not DT.”
In the shade, Jane Shlimovich held a large poster of Merrick Garland, who President Barack Obama had unsuccessfully nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016. Shlimovich said immigration is an issue that is personal to her. She came to the United States in 1990 as a Soviet Jew via the Lautenberg Amendment, which expedited resettlement for refugees who belonged to persecuted religious minorities.
“I’m very fortunate that that was available to special immigrants who could come legally,” she said with emotion. “But other people fleeing persecution that was much worse should have the chance to come to America just like I did.”
During the afternoon, a number of celebrities addressed the crowd, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, the director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, took the stage side-by-side with other clergy to denounce the separation of families.
“This society is in a state of moral emergency,” he said.
Outside of the American Federation of Labor building on 16th Street a few blocks to the north, Jewish organizations including the refugee agency HIAS, Jews United for Justice and the National Council of Jewish Women, and members of several area synagogues held a brief worship service before marching to the main rally. Among those protestors was Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda who, along with 50 of his congregants, held signs quoting a verse from Deuteronomy, “You shall love the immigrant.” Saturday’s immigration rally was the third in the last two weeks that Dobb has attended.
“[Abraham Joshua] Heschel famously said we are praying with our feet, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said, referring to the Conservative rabbi who was a leader in the civil rights movement.
At the edge of the rally, Washington resident Paolo Cozzi stood, his face obscured by a shadow, with a sign that read, “Marching in 90 degree weather sucks, but the govt stealing kids sucks way worse.”
The son of an Italian father and a Jewish mother, Cozzi said immigration was a “basic human rights issue.”
“My father’s an immigrant, and I just think it’s part of the fabric of who we are as Americans,” he said.
Ultimately, it was a collective demand for more compassionate immigration policies from the government that brought the thousands to Washington. Milner said the images of children herded inside metal cages at the border was enough to motivate her to attend the protest.
“I’m human. You see that stuff and you just die a little,” she said.
Freelance writer Anna Lippe contributed to this article.